If you haven’t been to any parts of Mindanao, you’re probably one of the people who cringe at the thought of going there. I don’t blame you. Mindanao is generally and unfairly portrayed in the media as a war-torn island where gunshots are as common as firecrackers on Christmas and New Year’s eve.
I’ll tell you a story:
Many years ago, I was walking along a dimly-lit street in Pasay City when a stranger started taking my pace and tried to spark a conversation. I had this gut feeling that his intentions weren’t wholesome and I certainly wished he’d leave me alone. And then he asked me where I came from: I said briefly: “Mindanao.” “Ha? Muslim ka?” (You’re a Muslim?) His startled reaction was overrated. And he scampered away.
What is it about Mindanao and Muslims that scare people? Myths. Unfair generalizations based on hearsay instead of facts.
Once and for all, let’s settle this.
1. Mindanao, which is the second largest island in the country composed of 26 provinces, is generally peaceful. Only a small fraction of Mindanao is actually conflict-prone. Not even all of Cotabato (North or South) is risky, so to be scared of Cotabato as a whole is not quite fair. However, you might want to avoid Mamasapano in Cotabato at this point. This agricultural area was unfortunately put in a bad light after a bloody encounter between armed groups and our law enforcers last January. Monitor the news first before you decide to visit that area.
But then again, it is but a small area in Mindanao. According to Wikipedia, the island of Mindanao is larger than 125 countries worldwide, including the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Ireland.
2. Whenever Mindanao is mentioned, one top-of-mind association is “Muslims.” First off, Mindanao is not limited to the ARMM or the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) which are predominantly Muslim areas.
There are many other cities and provinces in Mindanao that are dominated by non-Muslims. And even if there are many Muslims in some parts of Mindanao, so what? They are like everyone else, regardless of religion. Sadly, many of us have ingrained a certain degree of prejudice against our Muslim brothers and sisters as if they’re synonymous to terrorists and rebels. They’re not. I have Muslim friends and they are some of the nicest and most peace-loving people I know on earth. It’s not fair to brand people.
3. Modern Muslims and Christians are not the only dwellers in Mindanao. Mindanao is also home to lumads (indigenous people) who have distinctively rich cultures but are usually not under the media radar (except maybe during the Kadayawan Festival in Davao City where a lot of these lumads converge and participate in government-initiated activities). Filipinas Heritage Library lists these lumads as follows:
- South Central Mindanao (esp. Davao, Bukidnon, Cotabato): Bagobo, Tagakaolo, Teduray, Manobo, Kulaman, Blaan, T’boli
- Eastern Mindanao (esp. Agusan, Bukidnon, Davao, Surigao): Mandaya, Ata, Mansaka, Dibabawon
- North Central Mindanao (esp. Bukidnon): Bukidnon/Higaonon
- Western Mindanao and the Sulu Islands (esp. Zamboanga, Cotabato, Lanao): Maguindanao, Iranun, Maranao, Tausug, Samal, Yakan, Kalibugan, and Subanen
I am a child of Mindanao and for more than three decades, I have never felt that my safety has been compromised. Was I just lucky? Not sure about that. I’ve been to parts of Cotabato and Comval Province, places they tag as rebel-infested and war-torn, but I never heard gun shots nor have I been robbed nor assaulted. There was a single instance though when our group was approached by a member of the New People’s Army somewhere in Compostela Valley but he didn’t bother us, maybe because our guide was a local farmer whom the group respected for creating livelihood in their area.
Still scared of Mindanao? Start with Southern Mindanao particularly Davao City, the 4th Safest City in the World with a crime index of 13.27 and safety index of 86.73.
Experience not strife but the serenity of its nature parks and mountain resorts, the beauty of nearby beaches, the modern facilities around the city, the abundance of seafood, meat and other fresh produce, the diversity and unity of cultures, the hospitality of its people, the honesty of its taxi drivers. Before you know it, you’ll be wanting to visit nearby provinces and telling your friends that their perception of Mindanao being scary is not at all true.