COTABATO CITY (MindaNews /06 November) – There are three main entry points to Cotabato City from other parts of Mindanao: the Davao-Cotabato highway which traverses Davao City, Davao del Sur, North Cotabato and Maguindanao del Norte; the Narciso Ramos Highway which connects the Lanao and Zamboanga provinces with Maguindanao del Norte; and the Isulan-Cotabato highway that links General Santos, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat province with Maguindanao del Sur.
Severe tropical storm ‘Paeng,’ however, cut off access to Cotabato City via Ramos highway and Isulan in Sultan Kudarat province on October 28, leaving only one main entry point to the seat of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM): via the Davao-Cotabato highway. Those coming to this city from Isulan and General Santos or from Lanao and Zamboanga provinces are now taking alternate routes even as the damaged bridges are now accessible to light vehicles, to avoid the long queues.
Though not on the direct path of the typhoon, ‘Paeng’ triggered heavy rains, flooding and landslides in Cotabato City, Maguindanao del Norte, Maguindanao del Sur, Jolo and Zamboanga City, causing death, destruction and displacements, and cutting off access to areas like Cotabato City.
‘Paeng’ destroyed Nituan Bridge in Parang, Maguindanao del Norte which connects Cotabato City with Lanao del Sur and the Zamboanga region, and the Labu-labu Bridge in Datu Hoffer, Maguindanao del Sur that links Cotabato City with General Santos, Sarangani, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces.
The approach to Nituan Bridge collapsed while abutment at the Ampatuan-Datu Hoffer section of Labu-labu bridge “was already exposed due to scouring and the approach slab was already hanging,” according to the situation report issued by the Bangsamoro READI (Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence).
As of 4:30 p.m. on Monday, October 31, Nituan Bridge was opened to light vehicles after the installation of I-beams and steel plates as temporary approach.
But coming from Cotabato City, just a few meters before reaching Nituan Bridge, motorists bound for Lanao del Sur and Marawi City and the Zamboanga region are guided to turn right to take a detour to reach their destinations, via the Nituan-Orandang-Barira-Matanog route.
Maguindanao (recently divided into del Norte and del Sur) is the gateway to Cotabato City. The highway networks link the city with the BARMM’s mainland areas: the provinces of Maguindanao del Norte, Maguindanao del Sur and Lanao del Sur and the Islamic City of Marawi, and the Special Geographic Area (SGA) comprising 63 barangays in six North Cotabato towns.
Zamboanga City, accessible by land from Cotabato City, is the gateway to the BARMM’s island provinces – Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
On October 29, Architect Eduard Uy Guerra, BARMM Minister for Public Works told MindaNews the engineers were assessing the damage of Nituan Bridge. “We already called the attention of the national DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways)” because national highways are under the national government. Nituan Bridge is along the Narciso Ramos Highway.
The DPWH, through its Region 12 (Socsksargen) office immediately responded and by 4:30 p.m. of Sunday, October 1, Nituan Bridge was reopened but only for light vehicles, with the installation of a temporary approach made of steel plates and I-beams on one lane.
Guerra also called the attention of the DPWH Project Management Office on the Labu-labu Bridge 1 along the Isulan-Cotabato highway as national highways are under the jurisdiction of the national government. The bridge is along the Isulan-Cotabato highway.
According to the BARMM’s Situation Report 11 as of 6 p.m. on November 4, the bridge is still not passable and is still undergoing repair. But in its Situation Report 13 as of 6 p.m. on November 5, the bridge is now open but only for light vehicles.
Despite the opening of the Nituan and Labu-labu bridges for light vehicles, residents and traders have been resorting to taking alternate routes to reach this city, to avoid the long queues.
Residents of Marawi who used to take the four-hour ride to Cotabato City via the Narciso Ramos highway, have several options to reach Cotabato City: go via Cagayan de Oro – Talakag in Bukidnon which is a longer ride, or go on a 5.5 hour travel via Maguing in Lanao del Sur all the way to Wao in Lanao del Sur then on to Alamada, Libungan and Pigcawayan in North Cotabato, moving on the Davao-Cotabato highway. One can still travel via the Narciso Ramos highway and follow just follow the signs that will guide motorists to the alternate route that will not pass the Nituan Bridge and Sarakan Bridge in Matanog. Sarakan Bridge is still not passable but is undergoing repair.
The Ministry of Public Works – Maguindanao 1st Engineering district reported on October 30, that as of 6 p.m., Pigcawayan-Buldon-Barira-Matanog Road was already passable but only for light vehicles.
It also announced a detour going to Parang’s center, bypassing Nituan Bridge, but only for light vehicles: Nituan-Orandang-Marang-Parang; Nituan-Orandang-Marang-Parang-Liong-Matanog; and Nituan-Probinsyano-Mercedez-Barira-Matanog.
It also identified the alternate route for those traveling from Cotabato City to Pagadian, Zamboanga or Lanao, via the Nituan-Orandang-Barira-Matanog route.
Residents of General Santos City can proceed to Cotabato via Tacurong City-Buluan in Maguindanao, M’lang and Kabacan in North Cotabato. But that is a five-hour ride, compared with the 3.5 hour ride via Isulan.
Others have also resorted to taking the route from General Santos to Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat to Rajah Buayan in Maguindanao to Mamasapano then on to Shariff Aguak towards Cotabato City, estimated to be at least 4.5 hour ride, but only if the weather permits as there is a portion in Barurao, Sultan Sa Barongis where vehicles literally have to cross a river.
Maguindanaon journalist Nash Maulana told MindaNews there is another route to Cotabato City from Isulan without passing by Labu-labu Bridge. “Just before the municipal hall of Ampatuan town, there’s a provincial road connecting Ampatuan and Rajah Buayan towns. Turn right towards Barangay Panabungan passing by Barangay Bangga then Barangay Zapakan in Rajah Buayan. Turn left along the Makar Road to Barangay Crossing in Mamasapano. From Crossing Mamasapano, turn left towards the Mamasapano Municipal Hall, straight ahead to Barangay Nabundas until you reach the Shariff Aguak rotunda, then turn right towards Cotabato City along the Isulan-Cotabato highway,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)