The article I penned here back in September last year certainly provoked some comments.
Some of you asked for further information, and one of you, Mitchell, wrote in with a longish comment that was converted into an article. Mitchell used a young Canadian, Kyle, as an illustration of the safety of living in and traveling around Mindanao.
Let me make three things clear.
Firstly, there is no mileage in this subject becoming a saga. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Second, the sole purpose of my article was to make folks aware of the travel advisories issued by the U.S., U.K. and Canadian governments about travel in Mindanao.
Third, there are many foreigners either living in, or have traveled around Mindanao who have never encountered any threats.
That’s great news! The same is true for foreigners all over the Philippines. Great news, or even good news, rarely gets reported in the media as we are all aware. Can you sense a ‘but’ coming here?
Negative Image of Mindanao
It was a coincidence that the timing of my article was preceded by the kidnapping of foreigners at the resort in Samal Island in Davao del Norte.
Kyle mentions similar travel advisories on his blog Becoming Filipino –
At first they definitely put a little bit of fear into my life. I was a little more cautious and fearful then my usual self. There are so many negative thoughts thrown around about Mindanao on a daily basis, through media, internet and in general chit-chat that it would be hard not to have a little fear when you hear that word.
“That word” he was referring to was “Mindanao.” I agree with him. It’s ludicrous to label the whole island as some kind of lawless wild-west frontier.
However, the ‘but’ you may have sensed coming is that terrorists do operate in Mindanao and some of them specialize in the ‘kidnap for ransom’ of foreigners.
Since the Samal kidnappings another foreigner was kidnapped in Dipolog. The victim was an Italian, a former priest and a pizza parlour owner at the time of the kidnapping. Clearly, the kidnappers believed that he was wealthy and someone would pay a ransom.
He has never been heard of since.
The British and Australian governments state clearly on their websites that they will not negotiate with terrorists. It is my understanding that the U.S. Government has a similar policy. It seems that if you are foreigner and kidnapped here in the Philippines no one in authority gives a flying fig! ‘You were warned’ is probably the unofficial government view.
No Room for Complacency
It’s abundantly clear that Kyle and Mitchell make a valid case for over-hype of the Mindanao ‘problem’.
Life carries on. It may carry on for you as a foreigner living or traveling in Mindanao, but there ought to be no room for complacency.
Despite the picture painted by Mitchell and Kyle, a kidnap for ransom could happen to any foreigner. It is foolish not to accept that risk exists as a fact even if you are in Iligan or CDO, or even further afield.
The latest intelligence warnings from western governments spell out that certain groups plan to extend their kidnap operations further away from their base in southern Mindanao.
Kidnap for Ransom Groups Operating in North Mindanao
This is what the U.K. government is currently advising:
[I]t appears that the information as of late October 2015 indicates that kidnap for ransom groups may be planning operations in North Mindanao including the islands off the coast.
That advice stood as of 1/2/16. Indeed, it has been suggested that these kidnap raids could extend to the coastal areas of southern Negros Island and Siquijor.
It matters not one iota how much you smile or mingle. If a terrorist group sees you, a foreigner, as an easy target for kidnap, then no amount of smiley faces will prevent that happening.
The editorial preamble to Mitchell’s article included a reference to high and moderate risk assessments throughout the Philippines. It correctly pointed out that the official Philippines intelligence agency had rated Boracay as a higher risk than much of Mindanao. There was good reason for that which is beyond the scope of this article.
Before that Philippines government assessment lulls anyone into a false sense of “security”, I must point out that Samal Island near Davao, was the scene of the recent kidnapping of a group of foreigners on 21 September, 2015. Yet, Davao del Norte and Samal Island are in the “moderate” classification and Boracay rated under “high” risk. Go figure!
This Samal kidnapping was the one referred to in my original article.
Lightning Can Strike Anywhere Anytime
I stress once more I accept that you guys who know and live in certain parts of Mindanao feel safe.
Surely the operative word is “feel”. The comments section of both articles on this site contain sentiments to the effect that, “there are plenty of foreigners now living in X, Y or Z” (therefore all is fine).
Of course, that is the case, but entirely misses the point of the warnings. The unspoken part of the warnings surely is, “lightning can strike anywhere, anytime.”
Response to Comments
In answer to Jay Alexander’s questions in his comment following my original article, I would say this as general advice based on my 30 years’ experience in law enforcement (these views are entirely my own opinion).
The advice applies wherever you live or choose to live in the Philippines –
- Find a house to live in a secure sub-division in an urban environment. The more remote and isolated your home is, the more likely you will be targeted by criminals.
- Keep a low profile.
- As a foreigner, you are not legally permitted to own a firearm. There is nothing to stop you having access to one owned by say your wife, in the event of a life-threatening situation. The consequences of you using that gun are impossible to predict.
- The notion of fostering good relations with a PNP officer is not a bad idea, but, can you trust him?
- The guard/attack dog is a great plan.
- No matter how ‘native’ you intend to go, you will always be a foreigner!
- Your valid question about the victims’ lifestyles is difficult to answer in full as I simply do not have the facts at my disposal. The reports of the kidnappings of the foreigners in Samal Island in September 2015, Canadians, Norwegian and a Filipina, say they were simply doing their normal thing at the holiday resort.
The most recent government travel advisories are to be found here:
- UK Government Foreign Travel Advisories
- UK Government Terrorism Advice
- US Government Travel Advisories for the Philippines
- Australian Government Travel Advisories for the Philippines
If any of you are interested in a full and detailed current account and history of insurgency in the Philippines then I thoroughly recommend further reading:
- Philippines government document National Security Policy 2011 – 2016
- Terrorism – a Problem in the Philippines, Michelle Celebrado
- Current Terrorist Groups and Emerging Extremist Armed Movements in the Southern Philippines: THREATS TO PHILIPPINE NATIONAL SECURITY , Rommel C. Banlaoi