Home > My Mindanao > Mindanaw Travelogue II

Mindanaw Travelogue II

February 20th, 2005
Last Tuesday I went back to Cotabato City for a meeting. This time we took the Iligan – Marawi- Malabang – Cotabato route via the Narciso Ramos Highway. Unlike the Iligan- Bukidnon – Cotabato route which is almost eight hours’ drive, our new route takes only four hours straight driving.

The trip was on short notice; I packed up post-haste only the bare essentials–documents to bring, a couple of shirts, toiletries, cigarette packs, flash stick, a windbreaker and a pair of convertible cargo pants. Unfortunately, in the rush of things I forgot to bring my digital camera.

Our decision to travel via the Narciso Ramos Highway was not without hesitation and objections. This route is not a pleasure traveler’s dream road. The highway is full of stories about ambushes, highway robberies and hold-ups, snipers, suspicious and unwelcoming roadside folks, military versus bandits-guerillas-armed civilians running battles and skirmishes along the highway, etc.


(photo source: www.cyberdyaryo.com)
The long stretch of the Narciso Ramos Highway was a battle zone during the AFP’s war against the MILF in year 2000. Along the highway are mountains and forest lairs of various Moro armed groups – from Moro guerrillas to kidnappers and local bandits.

But then it’s the only route that can take us to Cotabato with the shortest traveling time. I felt a certain twitch in my stomach when we finally decided for a go amidst objections from other colleagues. The last time I traveled through this highway was in 1998 and yes I remember that portions of it then were indeed controlled by Moro insurgents.

We required our female colleague to wear a “kumbong” – the local term for veil worn by women. It is an unusual sight to see a woman without “kumbong” traveling with men in this dangerous road. It attracts suspicion and unnecessary attention. There were four of us and I was the only one among our group who knew the directions. I did the navigation as far as my memory can serve me. And it did serve me well. Nothing much has changed and most of the landmarks along the highway that I had familiarized myself with before are still very conspicuous.

Our travel went smoothly except for some psychological discomfort brought about by fear and anxiety to what may surprise us in the next bend. But our fear disappeared as soon as we discovered scenic spots and some funny sights and signs. There were some truly notable signs along the way. In two different CAA (Civilian Armed Auxilliary – another name for civilian para-military units) checkpoints: a sign said “FULL STOP ENSFECTION”. We were thinking if they wanted us to stop for inspection or they wanted to stop infection. A sign at the other checkpoint said “CAUTION ACCIDENTAL ZONE”. This made us wonder if we were in the right place. One of the streamers hanging over the road welcoming the homecoming of loved ones had this to say, “Compliments by RELATIVE FAMILY”. Maybe their family name was really “Relative” or they’re not really sure whose family they were welcoming. Also, printed in one of the pillars of the Welcome Arch in Cotabato City was “BE FUNCTUAL EVEN OTHERS ARE NOT”. At least we arrived at our meeting on time.

There are no more checkpoints by Moro insurgent forces and the whole stretch of the highway from Lanao del Norte – Lanao del Sur to the province of Maguindanao are now guarded and secured by Marine soldiers.

Quite frankly, I feel more secure having Marines manning checkpoints than ordinary Army soldiers. The Marines are more courteous and reassuring while an ordinary Army Infantry soldier will make you feel very uncomfortable and scared.

An Army soldier manning a checkpoint will treat you like a criminal; without saying anything, will give you a tiger stare, look you in the eye, with his finger locked on the trigger of his rifle as if ready to shoot you if you make a wrong answer. An Army soldier at every inch looks angry and makes you feel as though it was your fault why his life is in a miserable mess. While a Marine on the other hand will approach you smiling, greet you and make apologies for the delay. He asks you were you’re heading, makes a visual inspection and then salutes while saying thank you and have a nice trip.

We reached Cotabato after four hours, safe and sound.

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  1. February 23rd, 2005 at 15:41 | #1

    Greetings From Mars…This is really an adventure into the middle of nowhere. Your blog design is so good.

  2. Samuel Bilibit
    March 6th, 2005 at 22:55 | #2

    thanks Major Tom…credit goes to my wife for my blog design.

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