Photos by: Nahara Gandamra Biruar
“It’s not safe to travel to Mindanao.”
That’s the general impression of most people about this particular subject matter, especially those who are not really familiar with the Philippines and just hear about it through the news. It actually didn’t occur to me to feel some apprehension when I first traveled to Mindanao alone. It was probably because I went to tourist-friendly Cagayan de Oro (CDO) and not to the other more infamous areas of the region
Even if the Philippines is branded as one of the top countries in the world where journalists are not safe (read: Maguindanao massacre), I did not hesitate at all when I had to go to CDO for work. But since it was a business trip, everything was arranged for me—from airport transfers to accommodations, and even lunch meetings. I was checked in at a hotel in the city center and near one of the major malls. The hotel was also in the same building where I had to do my research and interviews. I did not have to go far for anything at all!
Major cities like CDO, Davao and Cotabato are generally safe. When traveling to new places, just make sure to research beforehand. Find out more about the people, their customs, and other necessary information.
Ana Santos, a journalist who writes about Philippine armed conflict, has experienced traveling to Mindanao for an assignment. She went to Cotabato and its outer provinces like Datu Piang, as well as Marawi in Lanao del Norte, to investigate women and children in conflict, particularly those who were in affected areas and displacement camps. In Datu Piang, she stayed with a priest; while in Marawi, her former college classmate who resides there welcomed her with open arms. Whenever she had to do fieldwork, her classmate’s male cousins would always accompany her wherever she would go.
The experience is really different when visiting places that are in the outskirts of major cities. When planning to travel in such areas, take note of the following tips:
According to Ana, “[Traveling to Mindanao is] generally safe, but in such places, I guess probability of conflict is just higher.”
As with traveling to a new place, it would really be ideal if you have contacts in the area that can show you around and give insider tips.
For a worry-free trip, make sure to bring the following with you when you travel to this side of the Philippines:
Depending on what kind of traveler you are, you might need to bring the following necessities: medicine for motion sickness, motion sickness bag, and mint candies. It would also make your experience more comfortable if you have alcohol/hand sanitizer or hanky/tissue paper with you at all times. But the most important thing to have with you is your presence of mind. Do remember that the next time you book a trip to Mindanao, or anywhere else for that matter.