Lalawigan tunay na malaya,
Hiyas na tangi nitong Pilipinas
Kristyano’t Moslem, ay nagsikap
Na ito ay mapaunlad.
Cotabato lupa ng sagana,
Tanging yaman nitong bansa.
Cotabato pugad ng biyaya
Ang pag-asa ng lahing dakila.
Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat,
Ay Cotabato ding matatawag.
Cotabato buhay at lakas
Nitong bansang hinihiyang.
I came across a blog written by the Capricorn Takeshi describing his round-about of the empire province of Cotabato. It was a nicely written article devoid of exaggerations and hyperbole that visitors to the heart of Mindanao are usually prone to make.
I was in reminiscing mode after that, and oddly, the Cotabato Hymn (above) came back to my mind first in trickles but later on the lyrics came like a pouring rain, except for the last part, which I tried very hard to remember but really cannot, so I texted my younger brother to supply me with the last two lines.
We hear the song everyday then, before the advent of Cable TV. Our local TV channel, CTV 12 plays the hymn at 12:00 noon, always after the national anthem, signalling the start of its daily programming.
I don’t know who wrote the lyrics, or who created the hymn. But I guess the song tells a lot of stories about Cotabato and it carries with it a powerful mantra- of peace, progress, hope, heroism, unity, and prosperity.
First, the stories.
That the hymn was written in Filipino (or Tagalog) is not a curious case. Tagalog has become the lingua franca of Cotabato City. It was a force of nature, because when people from Christian Philippines (Visayas and Luzon) as it was called then came to Cotabato in the middle of the 20th century, the only common language that they can speak was Tagalog, only because Tagalog was the medium of instruction used in our public school system. So the Maguindanaoans, Iranun, Illongos, Ilokanos, Warays, the Chinese, Chavacanos, and Visayans must use one language to understand each other. That stuck, especially in the city, where the real melting pot was. At the outskirts, migrants grouped themselves together in separate communities, thus preserving the use of their original native languages.
Cotabato started as an empire, a sultanate to be exact. It was one of the two sultanates that survived Spanish colonization. The other one was the sultanate of Sulu. During the American occupation, the government made it their project to invite Christians to settle in Mindanao as part of the Grand Assimilation Plan. That was when Mindanao got its Land of Promise monicker. That was also the time when Cotabato Empire became the Cotabato Province, consisting of the Cotabato District (now Cotabato City), the North Cotabato (which includes towns like Pigcawayan, Aleosan, Midsayap, Kidapawan, etc.), Maguindanao (Parang, Polloc, Simuay, Boldon, Dinaig, Upi, etc.), Sultan Kudarat (Tacurong, Isulan, ), and South Cotabato (Dadiangas, Marbel, etc).
This is a very powerful line, and it captures the essence of unity in diversity, long-standing peace and progress amidst differences. But of course, not only Christians and Moslems took time and effort to make Cotabato progressive. Credit also goes to people whose religious persuasion is not either of the two. I must say that my ancestry is both Christian and Moslem. My maternal grandfather’s parents are Chinese Moslems. Along the way, and it might be heavily due to the dynamics of those times, their children chose their own religions. My grandfather married a Christian and they raised their family as such. Although I dont have any memory of my grandfather attending a Christian ceremony, I just assumed that he chose to be one– or maybe he chose to be neither.
As an empire turned province, Cotabato displayed political maturity when a triumvirate was created to govern the city. Leaders from three ethnic/religious origins were chosen to administer the city. They were Jose Lim (Chinese), Rufino Alonzo Sr. (Christian) and Datu Sinsuat (or was it Datu Pendatun?–Moslem). That was a unique arrangement to ensure that peace and harmony reign in the city. I believe that was an unprecedented arrangement in Philippine history. Maybe our current peace negotiating panel can learn from this administrative model?
As a footnote, my family is descendant of the Alonzos. My maternal grandmother was a Malcampo whose family intermarried with the Alonzos.
Admittedly, it was a tremendous amount of courage and bravery to resist and succeed against Spanish colonization. That is what dakila meant. This has never been completely recognized in the history of the Philippines but the Moro resistance against colonization was the most successful ever. All other attempts against Spanish rule, as we all know, have failed. And the Filipino indios and ilustrados mounted a revolution against Spain quite belatedly, only after 300 long years of oppression. It tempts me to add my voice to a long-standing debate on who should our national hero be. My personal take is that it should be a Moro, someone who have never succumed to foreign rule and most importantly, someone who have been successful in waging a war against conquistadors.
Several times in the song that Pilipinas or nitong bansa was mentioned. The meaning that I get from this is that Cotabato acknowledged Filipinization. It recognized that it has become part of a bigger community. It accepts the role it plays in the post-Spanish Philippines. It affirms that Pilipinas is her country.
As Cotabato City celebrates its 50th anniversary as a chartered city on June 20 this year, I hope that our present leaders look back at our glorious history and assess the progress that we have made until today. Cotabato’s history predated not only most of the cities in Mindanao but also of the whole country. What do we expect from a golden aged city? Progressive maturity or useless antiquity? Development or regression?
All of us who have memories of growing up or has lived in Cotabato City has had experienced its cosmopolitan simplicity and urban complexities. I remember that there was even a time when Davao CIty is considered ‘provincial’ by Cotabateños. Well, that was too long ago.
My fervent hope is that we bring back the golden years of Cotabato City especially today that it has reached its golden age. The time is perfect for a renaissance, a cultural and political revolution to usher in dramatic changes in the ways we live our lives and define once more, albeit in a post modern context, what a multi-cultural community can do.
Disclaimer: The historical data contained in this article was not validated. These are merely based on my remembrance of a piece I’ve read from an article written by Datu Michael Mastura.