Before the coming of the Christian migrants from Luzon and the Visayas which had accelerated the growth of settlements and subsequently gave rise to bustling municipalities, this area named Cotabato was inhabited by various ethnic groups namely: the Manobos, the Bagobos and the Muslims sometime in 1500 A.D. These various tribes are believed to be descendants of Indonesian immigrants owing to their similarity in physical structure and language.
According to a Manobo creation myth, the fertile flood plain between the Kulaman and the Pulangi Rivers was the birthplace of life on earth. Soil stolen from another world was deposited in this place, which they refer to as pinamua or “land of the beginning”.
When the Maguindanao Sultan acceded to Spanish sovereignty in 1861, the colonial government organized several districts to cover the vast plain of the Pulangi. Those who resisted the Spaniards fled towards the interior, to Pagalungan and continued resisting Spanish intrusion into the region. The district of Cotabato was formed in 1860. In 1871, the district covered the military areas of Polloc, Malabang, Reina Regente, Taceran, Babia, lllana, Baras and Lebac. What is presently Cotabato remained outside the area of Spanish activities.
The area covered by the empire Province of Cotabato is the territory presently occupied by the provinces of Cotabato (the mother province). South Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat, including the area now covered by General Santos and Cotabato Cities. “Cotabato” comes from the Maguindanao “Kuta Wato”, or “Stone Fort”, and bespeaks of the long tradition of courage and resistance that marks the history of the Pulangi River basin. Its capital was then Cotabato (now a city, a town along the Rio Grande some five kilometers from where said river empties into the sea on the west).
The total land area of the original Cotabato before its division was 2,296,791 hectares or about one thirteenth of the whole country which has an area of about 30 million hectares. So big was the original province that its area was about the size of the central plain of Luzon and bigger than six states in the United States, including the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The total land area of the Hawaiian Islands (now a U.S. state) is only about three-fourths that of Cotabato.
The effectivity of the operation of the original province of Cotabato was on September 1, 1914. The date when the creation of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu took effect pursuant to the Philippine Commission Act No. 2408 dated July 23, 1914, an Act providing for a temporary form of government for the territory known as the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, making applicable thereto, with certain exceptions the provisions of general laws now in force in the Philippine Island, and for other purposes.
Before the passage of the above-mentioned Act by the Philippine Commission, Cotabato was never called a province. It was just categorized as a mere district of the Moro Province. The Moro Province was composed of all the political subdivisions of Mindanao and Sulu, excluding the two Misamis Provinces and Surigao. The huge province (Moro province) was created by the Philippine Commission on July 15, 1903 in Act No. 787 and probably because no Filipino had any knowledge of surveying at the time, the territorial jurisdiction of the Cotabato District was roughly described, wanting in definiteness and usually giving rise to boundary conflicts with neighboring provinces.
The Moro province was governed by military governors, the last being General John J. Pershing, who was succeeded in December 1913 by the first civilian governor, Frank W. Carpenter. The early Filipinos were pagans – worshippers of the sun, the moon and some animals like Kalupindo (Parrot). Mohammed- anism or Islam was the first “imported” religion in Cotabato. It was first introduced in the later part of the 15th century by Shariff Kabunsuan, a legendary Muslim missionary who later ruled Cotabato with his descendants and established the Sultanate of Mindanao.
Shariff Kabunsuan and hisdescendants ruled Cotabato until the coming of the Americans in the early part of the twentieth century. One important feature established by the reign of Shariff Kabunsuan was the introduction of a system of government called Datuism. The system of government is until today still being practiced by some Mohammedans who revere the datu as the dispenser or lawgiver of death. This system developed Muslim culture and kept Muslim united in their struggles against foreigners.
The northern part of Cotabato particularly along the boundaries of Davao and Bukidnon was relatively unaffected during the emergence of Mohammedanism in the province. The reason was that, as mentioned earlier, some of the datus had settled at the foot of Mt. Apo and inland transportation was still difficult during those days so that the only convenient way was thru the river. Even then, the tribes who occupied the highlands, along the Pulangi river, which extends up to the province of Bukidnon were not converted to Mohammedanism. When the Muslim converts and missionaries migrated further north thru the river, the Malayan highlanders just went upward to the foot of Mt. Apo in different groups, which then developed into different ethnic groups.
The influx of Spanish “conquistadores” also did not affect the northern part of the province. The Spaniards came to subdue the “Moros” or Muslim pirates who attacked several islands of the Visayas and Luzon, at the turn of the 17th century.To prevent the further penetration of Muslim pirates, a fort was established at Tamontaka.
The Spaniards arrived in Cotabato way back in 1696 when Captain Rodriguez de Figueroa obtained from the Spanish government the exclusive right to colonize Mindanao. On February 1, 1596, he left lloilo and landed at the mouth of Rio Grande de Mindanao, in what is known today as Cotabato City. With Cotabato as the base, the Spanish “conquistadores” attempted to enter the interior region following the Rio Grande and reached as far as Pikit to protect the Spaniards from continuous harassment from the Mohammedans. Today, the Spanish Fort in Pikit still stands as the only relic of Spanish colonial power in the province.
The American forces arrived in the early part of the twentieth century. The Mohammedans under Datu Alamada and Datu Ali put up a very strong resistance in Midsayap, which hastened the coming of General Leonard Wood, then Military Governor, to personally lead the assault on the stronghold. But with the capture of the fortress in Midsayap, the Mohammedans engaged the military forces in guerilla warfare.
One important thing that the Americans did which caused a great impact in the province was their policy of attraction. This policy was aimed at convincing the Muslims of the sincerity of the American rule in the country. It was also aimed at restoring peace and order and implanting political advancement and training in the art of self-government.
Though Islam was the first religion, Christianity also was introduced later in 1596.
The first Christian settlers in Cotabato from outside of Mindanao-mostly came from the Province of Cebu and arrived in Pikit on June 17, 1913 at the behest and as a result of the efforts of the late Pres. Sergio Osmena who was then Speaker of the Philippine Commission. Expenses of their transfer to the “land of promise” were subsidized by the government.
The Administrator of the “Colono” (name given to the settlers at that time) was a Superintendent by the name Maximo Abad, a government-appointed official, who took care of the settlers’ needs, like food, farm implements, etc. There were six more batches of “colonos” that arrived after June 17, 1913. From Pikit, children and kin of settlers later moved westwards to Midsayap and eastward to Kidapawan.
Other settlements were organized later in General Santos, Marbel, Kiamba, Tupi, Banga and neighboring places. Most of the settlers came from Luzon and were better attended to by the National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA) and the Land Settlement Development Corporation (LASEDECO). Succeeding entry of enterprising Visayans and Luzonians came later at their own volition and expenses.
It was not always all smiles and happiness for the people of Cotabato. The years between 1941 and 1945 were unhappy years. Cotabato was not spared the ravages of war. Atrocities and destruction of the Japanese Imperial Forces was experienced by almost every Filipino. The second World War was a black chapter in our history but development albeit slow-paced, and the normal functions of government resumed after we were liberated by the American Forces led by General Douglas McArthur.
The biggest province in the country (Cotabato) had only one municipality when it was created a province on September 1, 1914: Cotabato Municipality, its capital, which became a city in 1959. Before the outbreak of World War II on December 7, 1941, Cotabato province had only three (3) municipalities: Cotabato, Dulawan (later named Datu Piang, in honor of Amai Mingka, the father of Governor Ugalingan Piang and Congressman Gumbay Piang) and Midsayap. The latter two were simultaneously created on November 25, 1936.
While the original Cotabato had an area of some 2,299,791 hectares, the present Cotabato territory covers only 731,102 hectares or a bit more than one-fourth of the size of the Original Cotabato.
The original Cotabato first experienced its first “slicing” or reduction of size in 1966 when South Cotabato was separated from the empire province. The first “slice” (South Cotabato) before belongs to Region XI. After the reduction, the reduced empire province still had 34 municipalities left, one of which (Carmen was bigger than the Province of Tarlac.
Our remaining province, after the separation of South Cotabato was effected in 1966, was again divided into three (3) district provinces, namely: North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 341, dated November 22, 1973. The Batas Pambansa thereafter renamed North Cotabato to just Cotabato in BP No. 660 on December 19, 1983, striking off the word “North.”
The province became part of an autonomous government for Region XII following the Tripoli Agreement of 1976. In 1989, following a plebiscite to determine the extent of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the province declined inclusion.
Our province, therefore, by virtue of the foregoing, is the mother province of the provinces originally belonging to the original Cotabato including South Cotabato, which was the first to be “sliced” there from.
The province is bounded on the North by the Province of Lanao del Sur and Bukidnon, on the East by Davao del Sur, on the Southwest by Sultan Kudarat and on the West by Maguindanao province.
The opening of the National Highway from Cotabato to Davao and Cotabato to Bukidnon brought government attention to the need of immediately utilizing unopened lands for organized settlement. This was the time when settlers coming from Luzon and Visayas streamed into the province opening new vistas for agricultural lands including mountains. And as elsewhere the formed communities patterned after those in the old home. Thus, barangays today predominantly occupied by llongos, Cebuanos, llocanos and Tagalogs are named after those names that were prevailing in the old homes.
When the 2nd World War came, in other places, especially in Luzon and Visayas, it meant evacuation and stoppage of all activities, especially farming which was the main economic activity of the population. This was not true in some municipalities that comprised the province. In Kidapawan, for instance, the war brought more people as evacuees from Davao which was then occupied by the Japanese came to settle thereat.
Thus, the pioneering settlers in the hinterlands of Cotabato were far luckier than their brothers in Luzon and Visayas since farming activities were not totally hampered by the out-break of hostilities. Instead, some crops like abaca were introduced by evacuees coming from Davao because the volcanic soil of Kidapawan was suited to this plant.
With liberation, more people poured in and new communities were opened serving as the nuclei of the present 17 municipalities and 1 city comprising the province.
In some parts of the province, 1950 was a year of depression due to rodent infestation that plagued the province. Destitute settlers, especially in the towns of Pigcawayan, Midsayap, Libungan, Mlang and Kabacan who saw their crops ravaged by rats in one night and the fruit of their labor gone to waste, gave up and returned to their old homes in Luzon and Visayas.
Most of the settlers, however, preserved some of their crops and timely government assistance minimized the danger posed by the infestation. In spite of those bleak years, the people of Kidapawan, mostly small landowners, enjoyed a bonanza from the high price of abaca fibers. So great was the prosperity of Kidapawan that in due time many professionals, mostly lawyers, doctors, nurses and agents of all sorts arrived in the place and settled permanently.
This period also ushered in big investments for the province by wealthy entrepreneurs from elsewhere in the country. Seeing the progress and potentials of the area, especially in rich volcanic soil of Kidapawan and Makilala, they began to acquire large tracts of land and developed them thru mechanized farming. Thus, today stands the Pamintuan Development Corporation Rubber Plantation, the Overseas Agricultural Development Corporation and other several big industries. Some investors tapped other potentials that the province possessed. Its economic development was lagging far behind the provinces in Luzon and Visayas. There were hardly any significant infrastructure projects and utilities until 1966 when then President Ferdinand E. Marcos undertook a massive infrastructure program in the areas of Mindanao.
The concreting of Digos-Cotabato Road was completed. Several farm-to-market roads, barangay roads and bridges were constructed and several municipal buildings were completed. Artesian wells were installed in the different barangays of the province. In addition, the Kabacan River Irrigation Project, the Mlang Irrigation Project and numerous communal irrigation projects capable of irrigating 50,000 hectares were constructed.
The steady pace of development was interrupted when the province became a battle-ground of Muslim secessionists. The Muslim Independence Movement agitated for the independence of Mindanao. As a result, several homes were razed, millions of pesos worth of properties were destroyed, towns and barrios were deserted and hundreds of innocent civilian lives were lost.
It was this time that President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972 and the arrival of government reinforcements reversed the turn of events. Military forces under the Central Mindanao Command (CEMCOM) led by General Fortunate U. Abat gradually recovered the places captured by the rebel groups and restored peace as these lawless elements were one by one convinced to return to the folds of the law. Numerous government programs were implemented with the aim of returning the evacuees to their residences. Foremost of these was the SPARE Program. Assistance and aid flowed to the province thru the Social Welfare Administration, now the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Red Cross and other agencies.
Since the original Cotabato was formally created as a Province on September 1, 1914, the governors of Cotabato before that date could not be called “Provincial Governors.” Before 1914 (1899-1913) our District Governors were all American Military Governors, all belonging to the Philippine Constabulary and all with the rank of major, except Don Ramon Vilo who ruled this area in 1898. As a province, Cotabato had its first Civil Governor in 1941.