Getting to the city of Cotabato by land after “Paeng”: main routes and alternative routes

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/Nov 06) – There are three main entry points to Cotabato City from other parts of Mindanao: the Davao-Cotabato Highway which runs through Davao City, Davao del Sur, North Cotabato and Maguindanao del Norte; the Narciso Ramos highway which connects the provinces of Lanao and Zamboanga to Maguindanao del Norte; and the Isulan-Cotabato Highway which connects General Santos, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat Province to Maguindanao del Sur.

Severe tropical storm ‘Paeng’, however, cut off access to Cotabato city via the Ramos and Isulan highway in Sultan Kudarat province on October 28, leaving only one main entry point at the headquarters 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 the provinces of Lanao and Zamboanga now take alternative routes even though the damaged bridges are now accessible to light vehicles, to avoid long queues.

A temporary approach made of steel plates and I-beams at the Nituan Bridge in Parang, Maguindanao has allowed light vehicles to pass since the afternoon of October 31. From Cotabato town, there is a detour just before the bridge for those heading to Marawi town in Lanao Del Sur and Pagadian in Zamboanga del Sur. MindaNews photo taken on November 3, 2022 by GREGORIO C. BUENO

Although not in the direct path of the typhoon, ‘Paeng’ caused heavy rains, flooding and landslides in Cotabato City, Maguindanao del Norte, Maguindanao del Sur, Jolo and Zamboanga City, causing death, destruction and displacement, and cutting off access to areas like the city of Cotabato.

‘Paeng’ destroyed the Nituan Bridge in Parang, Maguindanao del Norte which connects the city of Cotabato to Lanao del Sur and the Zamboanga region, and the Labu-labu Bridge in Datu Hoffer, Maguindanao del Sur which connects the city of Cotabato to General Santos, Sarangani, South Cotabato and the provinces of Sultan Kudarat.

The Nituan Bridge approach collapsed as the abutment of the Ampatuan-Datu Hoffer section of the Labu-labu Bridge “was already exposed due to scour and the approach slab was already suspended”, according to the report report published by the Bangsamoro READI (Rapid Emergency Action on the impact of disasters).

Nituan Bridge in Parang, Maguindanao, November 3, 2022. MIndaNews Photo by GREGORIO BUENO

From 4:30 p.m. on Monday, October 31, the Nituan Bridge was opened to light vehicles after the installation of I-beams and steel plates as a temporary approach.

But coming from Cotabato town, just a few meters before reaching the Nituan bridge, motorists bound for Lanao del Sur and Marawi town and Zamboanga area are guided to turn right to make 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 the city of Cotabato. Highway networks connect the city to the mainland areas of BARMM: the provinces of Maguindanao del Norte, Maguindanao del Sur and Lanao del Sur and the Islamic city of Marawi, and the Special Geographical Area (SGA) comprising 63 barangays in six towns in the north of Cotabato.

The city of Zamboanga, accessible by land from the city of Cotabato, is the gateway to the island provinces of BARMM – Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

On October 29, architect Eduard Uy Guerra, Minister of Public Works of BARMM, told MindaNews that engineers were assessing the damage to the Nituan Bridge. “We have already caught the attention of the national DPWH (Directorate of Public Works and Roads)” as national roads are under the national government. The Nituan Bridge is along the Narciso Ramos Highway.

The DPWH through its office in Region 12 (Socsksargen) reacted immediately and at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday 1 October, the Nituan Bridge was reopened but only for light vehicles, with the installation of an approach temporary structure consisting of steel plates and I-beams on one track.

From Marawi Town to Cotabato Town via the Narciso Ramos Highway. Map courtesy of Google

Guerra also drew the attention of the DPWH project management office to the Labu-labu 1 bridge along the Isulan-Cotabato highway, as national highways are under the jurisdiction of the national government. The bridge runs along the Isulan-Cotabato highway.

According to BARMM Situation Report 11 dated November 4 at 6 p.m., the bridge is still not passable and is still under repair. But in his Situation Report 13 of November 5 at 6 p.m., the bridge is now open but only for light vehicles.

Alternative routes

Despite the opening of the Nituan and Labu-labu bridges to light vehicles, residents and traders have resorted to alternative routes to reach this city, in order to avoid long queues.

Marawi residents who used to make the four hour journey to Cotabato City via the Narciso Ramos Highway, have several options to reach Cotabato City: via Cagayan de Oro – Talakag in Bukidnon which is a longer long, or take a 5.5 hour drive Travel via Maguing in Lanao del Sur to Wao in Lanao del Sur, then to Alamada, Libungan and Pigcawayan in North Cotabato, traveling on the Davao-Cotabato Highway . One can still travel via the Narciso Ramos Highway and simply follow the signs which will guide motorists to the alternate route which will not pass the Nituan Bridge and the Sarakan Bridge in Matanog. The Sarakan Bridge is still not passable but is being repaired.

Marawi City to Cotabato City via Maguing, Lanao del Sur. Map courtesy of Google

The Ministry of Public Works – Maguindanao 1st The Engineering District reported on October 30 that at 6 p.m. the Pigcawayan-Buldon-Barira-Matanog road was already passable, but only for light vehicles.

He also announced a detour to central Parang, bypassing the Nituan Bridge, but only for light vehicles: Nituan-Orandang-Marang-Parang; Nituan-Orandang-Marang-Parang-Liong-Matanog; and Nituan-Probinsyano-Mercedez-Barira-Matanog.

He also identified the alternative 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 travel to Cotabato via Tacurong City-Buluan in Maguindanao, M’lang and Kabacan in North Cotabato. But it’s a five hour journey, compared to the 3.5 hour journey via Isulan.

General Santos City to Cotabato City via the Isulan Expressway (L) and via Buluan–M’lang-Kabacan (R). Maps courtesy of Google

Others have also resorted to the road from General Santos to Tacurong City to Sultan Kudarat to Rajah Buayan to Maguindanao to Mamasapano then Shariff Aguak to Cotabato City, estimated at least 4.5 hours travel time but only if the weather allows it because there is a portion in Barurao, Sultan Sa Barongis where vehicles literally have to cross a river.

Vehicles cross this waterway at Barorao, Sultan Sa Barongis at Maguindanao, on the Tacurong Road at Rajah Bayan. Photo by JANETTE DEMOS

Maguindanaon reporter Nash Maulana told MindaNews that there is another route to Cotabato city from Isulan without going over the Labu-labu bridge. “Just before the town hall of the town of Ampatuan, there is a provincial road linking the towns of Ampatuan and Rajah Buayan. Turn right to Barangay Panabungan passing through Barangay Bangga then Barangay Zapakan to Rajah Buayan. Turn left along Makar Road to Barangay Crossing in Mamasapano. From Crossing Mamasapano, turn left towards Mamasapano Municipal Hall, straight towards Barangay Nabundas until you reach Shariff Aguak Rotunda, then turn right towards Cotabato City along the Isulan-Cotabato Highway,” a he declared. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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