In Cotabato, you’ll be hard pressed to meet somebody who hasn’t lost a loved one—a victim of gunfire, kidnapping, or both. My mother spent the earlier years of her childhood there. One day, she was at the family’s sari-sari store, and witnessed her uncle get shot. She told me that her eyes were never the same after that incident. It just couldn’t be unseen.
"Here, the two main reasons for killing someone are based on political motive, or love," a new friend explained when I visited Cotabato a few days ago. "Whether you’re a muslim, or a Christian, you’re still caught in the same web of violence. We’ve learned to make a conscious effort to see the good in others in spite of that."
“Bakit parang ang init ng mga ulo ng mga tao dito? (Why does everybody seem hot headed here?)” I jokingly asked. I’ve been in this town a couple of times, and saw how people would flare up easily, including my own family, and even myself.
"When you’re in a place where you have to constantly defend yourself, you’ll understandably be on edge always. You can die any second. When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go," he responded. "Being aware of this, what you can do today, you do it. It makes no sense to take time for granted."
Even though I didn’t grow up in Cotabato, it had a part of my heart.
"There’s nothing much to see here. We’re the stopover city for powerful groups that surround us; we’re not the destination. So we make up for everything by giving out delicious food to our guests," he added with a smile. But oh, for their brightly colored culture, custom of prayerfulness, and community ties, they offered so much more than they thought.
Hospitality and kindness are admirable traits. But when people are hospitable and kind to you despite exigent conditions, you bow down your head to them.
Cotabato doesn’t represent Mindanao as a whole, but it wouldn’t be fair—even human—to sterilize yourself from what they’re going through just because you’re in a more fortunate area. For their courage, they deserve to at least be listened to, and recognized. If we can’t pitch in together to carry a region forward, what more a country?
Brave the waves,
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