different island, same country... or is it?

when i informed people i knew about my being away from manila for a few days, i couldn't help but feel that their concern over my safety was nearly the same as for someone who's bound for baghdad or kabul. i was in cotabato city in maguindanao from monday till yesterday, and prior to my departure, i received overflowing wishes of safety and good luck, it almost felt like the goodbyes were permanent, like i would never go back, as though i was about to walk my final mile. the reason for this isn't completely unfounded, but may be largely due to the sweeping conclusions we draw about situations we are so divorced from, we form uneducated opinions based largely on either the media's tendency to blow things out of proportion, or our own ignorance and biases.

the big guns make sure that everything's in control

while the situation in cotabato city itself is stable and isn't exactly as what many perceive -- no, there is no war going on, shooting and bombing do not take place in the city as a matter of course -- i will be the first to say that there is something not completely normal. commerce and industry proceed as usual, and people go about their work as on any regular weekday, but there is an alarmingly high number of soldiers with their big guns milling around: in the airport, the streets, at my hotel, outside the mall, inside the restaurants drinking beer. i would probably go on to say that things are completely blown out of proportion, or that people are exceedingly paranoid, but a curfew has been imposed, somewhat, and after 8pm, i had little to do but stay in our hotel, surf the internet (there was wi-fi, at least), or watch cable television: a luxury i do not get to do so much these days.

these are the strangest-looking tricycles i have ever seen

initially, i had wanted to bring running shoes with me, but decided against it, because i was warned that i might not end up not running for health, but running for my life. later, i discovered that while it doesn't appear normal for people to be engaging in any exercise of that sort considering that things are still a little tense, the ARMM compound would have been the perfect place to do exactly that: run around in circles. the place is heavily guarded.

architecture inspired by the prehistoric balanghay

i was with my belgian boss during this business trip, and anything leisurely was far from the itinerary. but i did have occasion to talk to him about the little that i understand about the mindanao conflict. and i do not know a lot, but i do know where all of this violent resentment is coming from. there is still much that i do not understand about the situation in mindanao, or whether the bangsamoro homeland is the solution to decades of conflict defined by deadly and bloody encounters, but it certainly feels odd to be in the philippines still, but at the same time think that you're in a foreign country. the designs of the government buildings in the ARMM regional compound have very strong indonesian and muslim influences, it could've passed off as surabaya instead of cotabato city. and i don't know about the amount of independence, autonomy, and self-determination that's accorded to the ARMM government, but i was completely surprised to find myself charged travel tax at the airport. that is pretty strange, indeed.

spotted at cotabato city's awang airport: US military. war games, or waging war?

i actually had no opportunity to see much of cotabato city, and i spent only an hour downtown for lunch. but it is far from what many imagine. sure, the mere mention of maguindanao strikes some fear in the hearts of most filipinos, and that precisely is the source of the unfair conclusions that we've made about this city. it may not be anywhere near the top of the list of cities to visit, but i am not an authority in that regard, since i wasn't there to travel. what's really important is that we open our eyes and realize where our biases are coming from. we have to constantly ask ourselves, what's my basis? then perhaps, we will move closer to coming at an understanding.
Dude, don't visit potential bomb targets like movie houses, hotels, public markets, unsecured areas of the airport, the pier, etc. Don't ride the buses, ferries, not even the tricycles. Instead hire a car driven by a local you know. You won't see the war in the city because last month's attacks happened in the villages around it. The Red Cross counted 130,000 civilians displaced in rural areas around Cotabato.

Too bad, the city is known for its catfish/mudfish and crabs, which you might have missed as a consequence.
The safest place for a training run would be inside the 6th Army Infantry Division headquarters near Awang.
you're back!

i actually had a taste of the famous crabs. we were hosted to a dinner one night, but the rest were less-than-thrilling affairs from the hotel and local restaurants.

but things aren't as chaotic there as many of us might think. honestly.
Yes, the violence happened last month in nearby North Cotabato -- Pikit and some other towns dominated by Christian migrants, as well as in the Lanao area with similar demographics. Government forces control the major cities and towns, so the only danger in these areas are terrorist bombs -- although the MILF did occupy the Awang airport for several days during the Estrada era.
Alman, I'm back at visiting your blog! My bf, who just graduated from PMA last March 2008 was presently assigned at N. Cotabato. He said relatively peaceful nman daw yung place compare to Lanao and Maguindanao and you're right, people there are used to it (war). Medyo disheartening nga lang daw seeing the kids not attending school because of the situation. It made him realize how lucky we are to live in a more peaceful place.

Re: Hi
hi adel. thanks for dropping by again.

well, in cotabato city, i did notice kids going to school. maybe in surrounding towns, the situation isn't as ideal, hence the bitter reality that you just stated. i honestly don't know how we can remedy this. we're all out of bright ideas.