It would be impossible to visit all the provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in one day. The ARMM spans two geographical areas: Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao (except Cotabato City) in south western Mindanao, and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, covering a total of 12,288 square kilometres! But, from the 19th of November 2014 onwards, visitors to the ORG Compound in Cotabato City will be able to visit these provinces all in one day, have the chance to sample the delicacies from each region, and even shop at each village store displaying wares unique to their tribes.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ARMM, each member province built a mock rendition of their regions inside the ORG Compound in Cotabato City, seat of the ARMM government, designed to give visitors the feel of actually being there. Visitors to the Sama-Badjao Village of Tawi-Tawi can walk on footbridges over seawater; going to the Maranao Village of Lanao del Sur means you get to see and go inside an authentic torogan; watch weavers of Yakan fabric when you go to the Basilan village, and sample their famous coffee as well; know what it feels like to live in an Astanah at the Sulu Village; and experience the grandeur of Maguindanaoan culture.
The mock villages are reminiscent of the Nayong Pilipino in Pasay City, with its pockets of Philippine provinces laid out for schoolchildren, tourists, and picknicking families to see. The ARMM Villages however, do not just offer things to touch and buy, there are scheduled daily and nightly activities such as lectures, native games, exhibits and cultural presentations showcasing the culture of each tribe and province. Students from nearby schools have come here on field trips, as well as visitors from nearby cities, not to mention various national government officials who have come to wish the ARMM well on its 25th year.
It’s regrettable that the mock villages will be there only until the 19th of December, 2014, at the end of the month-long celebrations for the ARMM’s anniversary. On this day, the final judging of the “best village” competition will take place, and then they will be completely gone in a few days after that. This writer certainly hopes this will not be the case, that the ARMM government would find a way to sustain the presence of these villages for people to visit. The villages are the embodiment of the regions’ best, a microcosm of the ARMM’s multi-faceted culture and history, and their presence at the ORG compound has enabled those who would otherwise not have the chance to visit these provinces to have a taste of them, even if only for a day.