Maguindanao and Bilaan settlements existed at the head of Sarangani Bay but the interior was sparsely populated. Up until the middle of the 19th century, the Sultan of Maguindanao was considered the ruler of the region. The area around Sarangani Bay was placed under the jurisdiction of the district of Davao during the remainder of Spanish dominion.
The Americans established the district of Cotabato in 1903 and placed Southern Cotabato under its jurisdiction. Development was slow despite early attempts to bring in settlers in 1914 and the region remained lightly settled until 1939. In that year, pioneer settlers from Luzon, under the leadership of General Paulino Santos sailed for Sarangani Bay to begin the largescale settlement of the region.
As the migrant population increased both in number and influence, they demanded a greater say in local government. This movement culminated in the creation of South Cotabato, through Republic Act No. 4849, which came into law on July 18, 1966.
People, Culture and the Arts
South Cotabato is a melting pot of religions and culture. While other provinces are populated by migrants from Cebu and Bohol, South Cotabato is populated mainly by settlers from the Panay provinces. Hence, Hiligaynon is the primary dialect, followed by Cebuano. While the migrants populate the valleys and plains, the indigenous peoples continue to live in the surrounding hills.
Perhaps the most colorful people of Mindanao live in settlements around Lake Sebu in South Cotabato. The T’boli are famous for their beaded personal ornaments, embroidered dresses, bangles, bracelets, chokers and brass mail belts. It has been their tradition that when a girl reaches the age of five to six, their earlobes and the outer rims of the ears are pierced to accommodate numerous earrings. For beautification, they file and blacken their teeth. For the men, scarification is practiced.
Their tinalak cloth made from abaca fiber is not just beautiful and colorful, but full of tradition and significance. They believe that cutting the cloth would bring serious illness or even death. And when they sell it, they often attach a brass ring to the cloth to appease the spirits.
Among the best places to see the T'boli is Lake Sebu. During market days, women in full regalia go down to the lake to barter and sell their produce. Lake Sebu itself is a mystically beautiful place. The green forested hills reflect in the dark mirror like waters of the lake. The image is broken by the fish traps set at regular intervals.
On the third week of September, the indigenous peoples of South Cotabato celebrate a unique festival of thanksgiving, which incorporates indigenous and Catholic rituals and observances. Horse-fighting, dances and games lend color to the festivities.
Trade and Investments
The province of South Cotabato with a contiguous area of 791,078 hectares stands in the southernmost tip of Mindanao and serves as the Philippine’s gateway to the South Pacific. The country’s nearest point to both Australia and Indonesia possesses a generally flat terrain dotted by some hills and mountains, and enjoys a climate that is free from typhoons. South Cotabato is composed of 8 municipalities and a population projected to reach 1.3 million by year 2000. The abundance in resources has made the province the "breadbasket of the South". It has 322,600 hectares of productive land and another 268,000 hectares of potentially arable land. At present, the province accommodates 46% and 13.4% of fish caught in the Moro Gulf and Sulu Sea respectively as they enter the province en route to domestic and foreign markets. Mineral prospects in South Cotabato are also promising.
The province has 5,400 kilometers of roads and although only 5% is paved, the rest are all weather roads that can accommodate current level of transport services. Aside from the established land transportation system, South Cotabato is also accessible by plane and sea through the international airport and seaport in General Santos City. The local power requirement is supplied by a local electric cooperative while water supply comes from combined sources of formal waterworks system, artisan wells and natural springs. South Cotabato enjoys the services of direct distance dialing telephone services. A total of 41 banks provide the banking needs of large companies.
South Cotabato sees itself as an area for investments with high probability of success. The ease of access to domestic and global markets backed up by efficient support facilities and infrastructure makes small and large investors pick South Cotabato as the place to invest or diversify their operations. At present, multinational company Dole Philippines and other large companies like Purefoods, Monterey, and General Milling Corporation have already established their business in South Cotabato. Among the potential investment areas are meat processing, feed milling, fruit and vegetable processing, coconut based products manufacturing, dairy production, salt-making, textile milling and garments manufacturing, mariculture and resort development. Ship building, dry-docking and repair facilities are also potential areas for investments.
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