· By brian macy

My time in Cotabato Philippinnes a place of natural beauty but a terrorist hotbed.

Exploring the Natural Beauty of North Cotabato, Philippines: A beautiful place recovering from terrorism.

Whats up my people! Today, we’re venturing into one of the Philippines' hidden gems—North Cotabato. Nestled in the heart of Mindanao, this province is a paradise for nature lovers. From majestic waterfalls and lush forests to serene mountain views, North Cotabato is a place where you can reconnect with nature and experience the raw beauty of the Philippines.  How come you never heard of it before?  Well it used to have rampant terrorism and drug addiction.  The former Filipino president Duterte is notorious for ruling with his iron fist and is controversial due to the amount of people he killed on his mission to clean up his country, but the people in this area appreciate his style because of the violence that was destroying their community before he took action.  

The Natural Wonders of North Cotabato 

This region has a lot of natural beauty that is unfortunately not being taken advantage of due to terrorism and overall high crime in the area.  In the neighboring country of Thailand these natural wonders would be exploited into tourism money that would greatly benefit the impoverished people of the area, but the island of Mindanao has a long way to go in a recovering from a treacherous past.  Here is a quick overview of some of the natural attractions in the area:

  1. Asik-Asik Falls: Imagine a curtain of crystal-clear water cascading down a verdant cliff. That's Asik-Asik Falls for you! Hidden in the dense forests of Alamada, this waterfall is a breathtaking sight and a must-visit for anyone seeking a serene escape.

  2. Mt. Apo: The highest peak in the Philippines, Mt. Apo, straddles the borders of Davao del Sur and North Cotabato. The climb to the summit is challenging but rewarding, offering panoramic views of the island.

  3. Blue Lagoon: Located in Pigcawayan, this natural pool is surrounded by lush vegetation and is perfect for a refreshing dip.

  4. New Israel Eco Park: Home to the T’boli people, this eco-park in Makilala offers a glimpse into the indigenous culture while providing thrilling adventures like the zipline, which is one of the longest in Asia.

  5. Lake Agco: Nestled at the foot of Mt. Apo, this lake is known for its hot and cold springs. It's an ideal spot for relaxation after a hike.

The Impact of Terrorism and Crime on North Cotabato

While North Cotabato boasts incredible natural beauty, it has had its share of challenges. For years, the province struggled with terrorism and crime, which deterred many potential visitors.  I was shocked that the people were talking about IED's (improvised explosive devices), I am an Iraq veteran and was shocked that filipino civilians knew about these weapons, but they were a tool used by terrorist in this area for years.  This area was a war zone and people lived thru it the best they could.  The presence of insurgent groups and frequent clashes created an environment of fear and instability.

Statistics from the past decade paint a grim picture:

  • High Crime Rates: In the early 2010s, North Cotabato reported a significant number of violent crimes, including kidnappings and murders.  This was considered a war zone for years.  
  • Terrorist Activities: The province was a hotspot for terrorist activities, with numerous incidents attributed to insurgent groups like the New People's Army (NPA) and other local factions.

The Duterte Effect: A Safer North Cotabato

Enter President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in 2016 with a promise to restore peace and order across the Philippines, including troubled areas like North Cotabato. His administration implemented a stringent law-and-order policy, focusing on eliminating terrorist threats and reducing crime rates.  The violence in the area persisted and he gave the insurgents an option: "leave now or we are going to unleash the army on you and kill you". this was an extreme measure but got results.  When I talked to people here and I mentioned how the TV and news in America painted Duterte as a villian they quickly defended him and said "things that work in your country don't work in our country, life is different here".  After staying for a week and a very impoverished area but I never felt in danger and I see what they meant by that statement.  

Key measures included:

  • Military Operations: The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) launched numerous operations against insurgent groups, resulting in significant casualties among terrorists and the dismantling of their networks.  Duterte warned them and if the insurgents did not leave they died.
  • Enhanced Policing: Increased police presence and improved law enforcement strategies helped curb crime rates.
  • Community Engagement: Efforts to engage local communities in peace-building and development initiatives fostered a sense of security and cooperation.  The people here work together and share resources, survival instinct is still needed in this area.  

Current Safety Status and Statistics

Today, North Cotabato is much safer, thanks to these concerted efforts. Crime rates have dropped significantly, making the province more welcoming for both locals and tourists. Here are some recent statistics that highlight this improvement:

  • Murder Rate: The murder rate has decreased by over 50% compared to the early 2010s.
  • General Crime Rate: Overall crime incidents have seen a reduction of around 40% in the past five years.

Exploring North Cotabato Today

With improved safety, North Cotabato is reclaiming its place as a top travel destination in the Philippines. Visitors can now explore its natural wonders without the constant fear of violence. The local government, along with community leaders, continues to work towards sustaining peace and promoting tourism.  Even though the area is much improved when I was there, their was one murder and a bar brawl broke out which to me was funny and entertaining but could turn off some visitors.  

Final Thoughts

North Cotabato is a testament to the resilience of its people and the beauty that emerges when peace is restored. Whether you’re hiking up Mt. Apo, swimming in the Blue Lagoon, or simply soaking in the local culture, North Cotabato offers an enriching and safe experience for every traveler.

So pack your bags, bring your adventurous spirit, and come witness the natural splendor and transformative journey of North Cotabato, but stay on point things are better but do not be a victim.

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