Cuartel de Tacurong on the eastern end of the plaza

The city is a gradually burgeoning center of commerce for the provinces of Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao. Despite the isolated incidents, over the past four years, it has registered a steady increase in economic activity due to improved peace and order situation. Buildings rise in places that were once idle, old structures renovated or improved and public utilities and infrastructures fast-tracked.

From June 16, 2005 to June 1, 2007, I had the opportunity to command the Army Task Force Talakudong stationed at Tacurong City primarily activated as an anti-kidnapping and anti-terrorism force. Its headquarters is located along Alunan Avenue in an old structure that once housed the Municipal Mayor’s office in the 1960s and 1970s.

From the old highway that stretches from Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat and runs southward towards General Santos City, the said building is no longer visible due to the recent construction of a stone wall that people describe as a castillo.  
I started this project on September 8, 2006 with its foundations laid in time for the street dancing of the Talakudong Festival 2006. Thus, on the eastern end of the Tacurong City Plaza, a castle or fortress-like façade for the old Tacurong Municipal Hall dubbed as the “Cuartel de Tacurong” project was launched without blare and fanfare. The old Hispanic term was aptly borrowed to denote a military origin for the structures.
The main objective of his project is “to provide protection for the Task Force Talakudong troops, screen the troop activities from plain view and conceal the old municipal building used by as Headquarters and provide a make-believe ‘old colonial fort’ at the heart of Tacurong City that will hopefully serve as an additional place of interest or as a heritage facility.”

It started from a rather weird idea. And in order to determine if the idea was sound and would gain acceptance in the community, I initially presented it to my close friends and was encouraged by the positive responses. As more people learned about the plan, I was asked to formally present the plan to social and civic organizations during their scheduled meetings and fora.  

Satisfied with the general and specific objectives, individuals and organizations in and around Tacurong City pledged to support the project.

Adopting an early medieval period architecture that resembles an old Iberian colonial fort found in other parts of the country, river stones from Makilala, North Cotabato and Bagumbayan, Sultan Kudarat were hauled and used as the central vista of the project.

Construction materials kept coming as the project progressed. Soldiers and CAFGU personnel highly skilled on masonry, headed by Corporal Ariel Cause, feverishly worked on the project they never have thought to do in their life.

Using my modest background in Engineering back in college and military academy days, I designed the structure with the able technical guidance of Engr. Noel Griño, the Couples for Christ-Gawad Kalinga Area Head for Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and Sharif Kabunsuan provinces.

I was told recently that since the Cuartel’s construction, people who used to pass by the area now can’t resist turning their heads to this new sight and marvels at what they describe to be an emerging place of interest especially with its imposing architecture at the center of the city.   

It may be a very new edifice but its architectural design was faithfully based on a bygone era could well qualify to be preserved as a “heritage” structure. While in the City’s Area Development Plan, a tennis court is programmed to rise in the general vicinity, even before the project’s full completion, people have already been suggesting that appropriate amendment to the Development Plan be instituted. They aver that there are enough number of tennis courts in the city and adjacent towns while the “fortress” or “castle” is unique and cannot be found anywhere from Cagayan de Oro to Davao and General Santos City. Moreover, this uncommon architecture could benefit more than a few who can play the sport elsewhere.

I understand the people’s emerging interest for the design of old structures such as this because of the fact that in the 1960s until the 1980s, many of the Spanish style ancestral homes in the community were indiscriminately demolished in favor of the simple and more modern types of architecture – the bungalow type, the “anay” finish and the simple design box-type homes. Truly, the people sorely missed their forebears’ heritage homes that would even be comparable with those in Vigan (Ilocos Sur), Taal (Batangas), Silay (Negros Occidental), Carcar (Cebu), Taal (Batangas) or Sariaya (Quezon).

The first non-government organization to recognize its potential cultural and tourism value was the Rotary Club of Tacurong. In a letter submitted to the City Mayor of Tacurong, Hon. Lino O Montilla, on June 27, 2007 appending therein Resolution Number 01-07, series of May 29, 2007, the Club’s Chairman and President, Rotarian (Atty.) Remo Y Flores strongly recommended that the new structure to be preserved and made as a cultural property of the city.
On August 23, 2007, the candidates of the 2007 Mutya ng Talakudong had their pictorial in front of the Cuartel indicating the organizers’ appreciation for the structure.

In the event that a permanent campsite shall be allocated for the Army troops who were instrumental in building it, people I have interviewed suggest that it is for the greater interest of the community if it shall become the home of the future Tacurong City Museum – a repository of the rich culture of its people.     

As of this writing, “Cuartel de Tacurong” is about 95% complete but the city government officials have indicated their interest in continuing the project as originally envisioned.    (Col. Resty Aguilar, who also served as deputy chief of the government peace panel in the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group with the MILF,  has since been assigned to Luzon – MIndaNews)