If you read this site much at all, you know that I live in Davao City, on the Island of Mindanao. I love Mindanao, and I have loved the place for nearly 2 decades now. My love for Mindanao is manifested in many ways. The most obvious is by my living here. In addition, I travel around Mindanao a lot. I’ve shared some of my Mindanao travels on this site recently. Additionally, I own the domain name “Mindanao.com” and have owned that since the mid-90’s. I do all I can to promote Mindanao as a safe and peaceful place. It is a place where I personally feel at peace, and when I travel Mindanao I honestly feel a love in my heart for the place. This is home to me, and it always will be.
All that said, Mindanao really has a bad image. People all around the world think of the place as full of terrorists, bombings and such. In my opinion, the reputation is largely undeserved, but it is something that is difficult to change!
Actually, I have now visited every Province on the Island of Mindanao. There are three Provinces that are administratively under Mindanao which I have yet to visit: Dinagat Islands (just became a Province in January 2008), Camiguin Island (don’t know why I haven’t been there yet!) and Sulu. Each of these places is easy to go to and safe, except for Sulu.
It’s easy to get to Sulu from Davao. Just go to Zamboanga City (either fly there or drive), then you can either fly to Sulu or take a boat to get there. Sulu is an Island Province that is out in the Sulu Sea, south of Zamboanga. There are three such Island Provinces in the area: Basilan, Sulu and Tawi Tawi. I’ve been to Basilan and Tawi Tawi, but have yet to go to Sulu. All three provinces have a reputation for danger. At times, the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) Terrorist Group (an Al Qaeda affiliate) has used each of the Provinces as their home base. I guess that the ASG originally sprouted into existence in Basilan some 2 decades ago. Over the years they have been chased from one island group to another, but have never been wiped out.
Yes, getting to Sulu is easy – I’ve even flown over Sulu and seen it from the sky – but, it’s dangerous there. I do plan to go there, but I am not sure when I will do it. My hopes were to visit sometime this year, although the situation on the ground there has been somewhat more troublesome for the past year or so.
A little over a week ago, a relatively famous Journalist here in the Philippines, Ces Drilon, was abducted in Sulu along with three others. One of her companions, an assistant cameraman was released this past weekend. Although it is not 100% confirmed, it is widely believed that Drilon is being held by Abu Sayyaf terrorists. They are asking P10 Million in ransom, although her employer has a policy of not paying ransom.
So, after a number of years of no real kidnap problems in Mindanao, here we are again. A high profile kidnapping. One of the problems is that this scares people away. People think that all of Mindanao is full of terrorists and kidnappers. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, Davao, where I live, is maybe 300 or more miles from Sulu, and it’s not a few hours drive. It is a full day, probably 2 days to get there from Davao. So, a tourist coming to Davao really has no threat of harm from the Abu Sayyaf. Yet, all of the foreign governments will issue warnings that it is too dangerous for their citizens to visit Davao. Honestly, any of the major cities in Mindanao are relatively removed from this danger, and can be considered relatively safe to visit.
It seems that no matter how hard people work to show Mindanao as the peaceful and beautiful place that it really is, some small group always spoils it. Even if they are only causing havoc in small isolated places that are not even on the Island of Mindanao, the impact is the same.
I pray for Mindanao. I also pray for Ces Drilon. I hope that she is released, unharmed, soon.