South Cotabato is an epitome of success and a place of boundless opportunities. In more than four decades of existence as an independent province, it has attained phenomenal progress. Its progress can be attributed to the ingenuity of the development schemes planned for this province that are translated into tangible realities. But South Cotabato has a long history of pioneering immigrants who faced undauntedly the challenges of nature and the vagaries of politics. They were the men who laid the foundation of what was to become a progressive province.
Before the turn of the 20th century, the area to which South Cotabato would be carved was sparsely inhabited. The inhabitants were Muslims, B’laans, Manobo and Tagabilis. Other ethnic groups also migrated to this part of Mindanao perhaps even before the birth of Christ. They were believed to have come from the same Malayan stock owing to the similarity of their physical structure and language.
These Malayan pioneers led a peaceful existence and were isolated from other developing civilizations of the world after their migration. They remained isolated until the 15th century when Sariph Kabungsuan of Arabia arrived in Cotabato with his religious teachers to introduce the Mohammedan religion. He converted most of the Malayan settlers who occupied the lower and upper Cotabato valley along both side of the Maguindanao River. Aside from introducing the Mohammedan religion, Sariph Kabungsuan established himself as Sultan of Mindanao until the coming of the Americans in the early part of the 20th century. One important result of Sariph Kabungsuan’s and his descendants rule later on was the emergence of the system of government popularly known as “Datuism”. This system of government developed the Muslim culture and kept the Muslims united in their wars with foreigners.
Even during the emergence of Mohammedanism, the southern part of Cotabato was relatively unaffected. This was because inland communication was not yet developed and the only convenient way to the South was by sea. Even with the sea access, the Malayan settlers in the South were not converted. When the Muslim converts migrated to the south through the sea, the Malayan inhabitants in different groups just went further inland and developed into different ethnic groups that now exist throughout Mindanao.
Neither was the south affected by the coming of the Spaniards. The Spaniards came to subdue the Muslims at the turn of the 17th century. They established the fort in what is now Cotabato City but the Muslims stubbornly resisted them that their expeditionary forces from Cotabato could not go further inland than Libungan and Pikit. Thus, the Spaniards finally left Cotabato in 1889 without accomplishing anything except perhaps the establishment of Cotabato as a small town.
The coming of the Americans in the early part of the 20th century and their subsequent rule neither affected the south significantly. But one thing the American did that left a great impact later on in South Cotabato was their policy of attraction. This policy was aimed at attracting both the Muslims to the American rule and the Christians from over-populated provinces of Luzon and the Visayas to resettle here in the vast plains of Cotabato. Its other aims were to restore peace and order, instill political advancement and spark social awakening.
So that the time between 1914 and 1937 was a period of preparation, assimilation transition and initial progress under the American rule. It was during this period that immigrants from Luzon and the Visayas began to open the vast and fertile lands of South Cotabato, then comprising the municipalities of Koronadal, Buayan, Glan, Kiamba and Libak. Immigration of noticeable proportion started in 1914 and from then on a steadily increasing flow of immigrants was being felt all over the southern part of Cotabato province, reaching its peak in the later part of the 1930’s when it suddenly stopped at the outbreak of World War II and only to rise again in tremendous proportion in the 1950’s.
The first batch of Christian settlers came to the province in 1914 and started clearing the area of what is now Glan right along the Sarangani Bay. They were hardy settlers comprising mostly of Cebuanos and were led by the late Tranquilino Ruiz, Sr. The municipality of Glan where they first settled and which begun as Colony No. 9 of the colonization project of the government in October, 1914 is a living monument to the labor and hardship suffered by these settlers.
In March 9, 1920, the first batch of Ilocano settlers landed at Kalaong, Kiamba. They were brought here by the steamer “Tablas” with the late Crisanto Hidalgo of San Fernando, La Union as their leader. The settlers were courageous pioneers who brought along their wives and children to find new homes in the wilderness in the coastal plains of South Cotabato. Another batch came on the return trip of the sluggish “Tablas”.
Also along Sarangani Bay, on February 27, 1939, pioneers mostly coming from Luzon led by the late General Paulino Santos after whom the bustling city of General Santos was named, arrived and laid the foundation of what was to become a progressive province. These pioneers cultivated the vast fertile valley and when news of their success in farming reached the ears of the landless in Central Luzon and the Visayas, an exodus of settlers soon poured into the virgin land. These were the people, who were longing for a place in the sun and seeking a piece of land they can call their own, uprooted themselves from their home of origin to brave the unknown jungle of South Cotabato in the hope of achieving progress in life. The pioneers struck deeper into the hinterland aided by the now defunct Land Settlement and Development Corporation (LASEDECO) formerly the National Land Settlement Administration, created by Commonwealth Act No. 441 in June 3, 1939, blazing the trail as far as Koronadal Valley in the north and Allah Valley in the northwest. And year-in and year-out, they toiled as they have never toiled before, clearing the forest, breaking the soil and planting – doing all these in the face of tremendous odds like malaria, poor communication and the lack of transportation.
Nature, however, was kind. In return for the settler’s fortitude and industry, rain fell abundantly in the farm, giving rise to a production of palay of at least two crops a year. The soil in the newly opened settlement was too rich that one was said to have uttered the remark, ” You throw a seed into the field and nature will take care of the rest.”, that is to say, weather and soil condition were so ideal for agriculture that almost anything could be planted with little need of assistance. Nature itself took care of the crops.
Thousands upon thousands more of settlers streamed into the province and opened new vistas of agricultural lands including the mountains. And, like other people anywhere they formed communities patterned after those in the old homes. Thus, one will find towns today predominantly occupied either by the Ilongos or Ilocanos, etc, and nostalgia creeping into their senses, they called their new communities after those names long prevailing in their old homes.
When World War II broke out, the flow of immigrants halted. Even then, the pioneering settlers were far luckier than their brothers who stayed put in Luzon and the Visayas because the pioneers did not encounter as much hardships as their “paisanos” at home. After the Japanese occupation, when things returned to normal, a steadier flow of settlers into the province begun and new lands and communities were opened serving as the nuclei of the 18 municipalities in the province.
In the early 1950’s, however, disaster almost broke the spirit of the settlers with the appearance of a rat infestation, which almost destroyed their crops totally. Destitute settlers, who saw the crops overrun by rodents and the fruits of their labor go to waste, gave up and returned to their old homes. Most of the settlers, however, persevered and through the timely assistance of government agencies, recovered from their misfortune as the danger posed by the infestation was minimized.
On the political side, as the population swelled in the southern part of the province, a louder voice arose in the management of local government. As a result, more municipalities were created and people began to have more say in the running of the provincial government, which until then, had always been under the control of those living in the northern part of the mother province.
Because they felt they were not adequately represented in the local government, the people of South Cotabato, then part of Cotabato province, made countless appeals and petitions to the government to separate from the mother province and to enable themselves to run their own affairs in their own territory. Republic Act No. 4849, passed and approved on July 18, 1966, separated South Cotabato from its mother province. But it was not until the regular election on November, 1967 did South Cotabato elect its first set of officials and not until the beginning of the year 1968 did it function as a regular province. It had only 11 municipalities then with Koronadal as the capital town.
Since then, the province progressed tremendously. Under the able leadership of Governor Sergio B. Morales, the first elected governor who had served the province for nearly 20 years, South Cotabato was transformed into a new bustling province. It started as a first-class province but with practically nothing in terms of basic facilities, such as buildings to house the national and provincial offices and equipment’s and vehicles to facilitate governmental functions. Within a span of four years however, the province was able to provide facilities to provincial and national offices, build a capitol building, a provincial hospital, and equipped its motor pool with heavy equipment’s and vehicles. The province was also able to undertake massive infrastructure programs particularly on roads, buildings, water systems, and electrification.
Years following South Cotabato’s separation from its mother province ushered in big investment coming from elsewhere in the country and from foreign sources. Highly mechanized farming came of age. Investors tapped other potentials in the area. Ranches and piggeries have been developed. Fishery projects gained grounds in both domestic and foreign markets. Other large, medium and small-scale industries were well rooted. All of these paved the way for a sophisticated system of trade and industry in the province.
In 1992, South Cotabato gave birth to a new province. Seven towns in the southern and coastal section of the province now form part of the Province of Sarangani. That was a new challenge. And South Cotabateños, with their indomitable pioneering spirit have proven once more their ability to face and hurdle diverse challenges and ably went through with the demands of times.
Several important events that follow contribute greatly to the progress and development in the province wherein under executive order no. 429 dated October 12, 1990 under the Presidency of Her Excellency Corazon C. Aquino, the reorganization of the new administrative regions in Mindanao provides that the Regional Center in Region XII will be the municipality of Koronadal.
The evolution continues but has been stalled due to some legal impediments until the reconfiguration of the new administrative regions in Mindanao occurs in executive order no. 36 dated September 19, 2001 under the new administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Furthermore, the conversion of its capital town of Koronadal to a component city now known as the city of Koronadal under republic act. No. 8803 on August 16, 2000 and after a referendum it functions as such on October 8, 2000 further pushes the province to greater heights.
The new millennium ushers in a new beginning for the province with the coming in of regional offices in the city in consonance with the executive order designating the city as the Regional Center in Region XII.
South Cotabato sparks new interest having been renowned as the conference capital of Mindanao. It became the favorite venue for conventions and big events of national significance like the national secondary school press conference, the Palarong Pambansa and the 9th Mindanao Business Conference to name a few. The province boasts of its stable peace and order condition that provide favorable venue for trade, business and industry.
Today, the province of South Cotabato has been one of the most progressive and competitive provinces in the Philippines. It has been a 4-time Galing Pook awardee that resulted from its efforts in promoting and practicing transparency, accountability and participation in governance.
It was adjudged as the most competitive province in the Philippines for two consecutive years in 2014 and 2015. In 2018, the province received the seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) award from the DILG that symbolizes its journey towards good local governance upholding of transparency, integrity and service delivery.
What it got to show today are vivid results of human synergy and the richness of its resources.
Under the leadership of Gov. Reynaldo S. Tamayo, Jr. starting in 2019, South Cotabato has already surpassed almost every aspect of development. In 2022, it was recognized as one of the most competitive provinces in the country and the most business-friendly province in Region XII.
In 2023 it was again awarded a Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) the highest award in terms of compliance
with the standards of efficient leadership and outstanding public service. His landmark programs such as Free Hospitalization, Free Education and the Consolidated Rice Production and Mechanization programs aimed at ensuring sustainable economic development championing inclusive to all sectors of the society especially those coming from the marginalized sector.
For two consecutive years in 2022 and 2023, it was awarded a Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) the highest award in compliance with the standards of efficient leadership and outstanding public service.