Posted by: bridex | June 11, 2008

Kill the Mindanao Stigma: Let Sulu UNdevelopment remain in Sulu

When I started this blog, I swore that I shall never post anything that risk besmirching the image of my hometown, Davao, and the rest of Mindanao.  The purpose of this blog, I resolved, was to promote tourism, discuss news and developments, exhibit photos, and mark important events in Davao and the Mindanao beyonds.

The Mindanao Stigma occurs much like a contagion, wherein generalized reports of events and anomalies in a single point in Mindanao cause the entire island or region to be grouped, labeled, or branded, as to create public impression that such events or anomalies pervade or exist all throughout it.

I surmise that it is time for me to get real, down and dirty in the face of a shocking UNdevelopment.

Yesterday evening, getting home from a whole day of pounding in a government office in Taft Avenue, Manila, I found a mouth-rending news story on GMA.  It was about TV journalist Cez Drilon’s alleged kidnapping in Sulu.

Sulu, of course, is a sub-archipelago in southwestern Mindanao. Now, there’s the rub — the mere mention of “Mindanao” would most certainly act as an invocation of the ugly specters of terrorism and unrest. This would likely happen to the uninformed or to those who have not set foot on Mindanao. It’s a sorry cycle that’s hard to undo in the non-Mindanawon psyche.  Well, that includes foreigners who would normally feel hesitation whenever met with the prospect of getting to Mindanao.

It’s about time, perhaps that the media collectively take on the responsibility of finally eradicating the “Mindanao stigma” and its destructive effects. That will do a lot in safeguarding not only the good image but also the potentials of the other provinces, cities or regions who have been unduly dragged into this branding trap when in fact none of the evils occur in these places.

The foreigners i’ve seen in Davao have a lot to tell their brethren (is this term in any way gender-insenstive?) on what they had been missing for not coming over.  Hopefully, that would elicit non-visitor regret for ever believing in generalist anti-Mindanao travel advisories.  Because, after all, Mindanao is not all about kidnappings, skirmishes, rebellions, insurgency and unrest.  For instance, tourists who have been to Davao can attest to the peace and security, not to mention the wonders and tourist attractions which abound from its islands to its highlands.

Indeed, the UNdevelopment in Sulu will set off a viral outbreak engulfing the “innocent” regions in Mindanao, a domino effect of sorts that would topple the painstakingly built images of the regions, provinces and cities which over the years have tried to make a good name for themselves in the effort to attract investors, tourists and relocators. This contagion or outbreak, spawned by generalized or sensationalized reports of events and anomalies occurring in a single point in Mindanao (Sulu, for instance), and which create public impression that such events or anomalies pervade or exist throughout the whole island, is the so-called Mindanao Stigma.

With such unsettling news, I can’t help but be defensive. Knowing the “generalist” media, I expect that in no time, the broadcast and print platforms will be awash with unfair, nay scurrilous, articles, accounts and news items on Mindanao. Not to generalize, though, but it can be observed that many media practioners still breathe life into the smelly nostrils of the notorious Mindanao stigma.  Such are the yellow curtains of an  unfair, unbalanced and sensationalist brand of reportage that lends a myopic but glaringly uninformed view of Mindanao.

With that, please treat this post as an appeal: Let the trouble in Sulu remain in Sulu.  Avoid using general terms like “Mindanao” or “Southern Philippines” when referring to the locus of this incident. After all, the media never uses “Visayas” to refer to such Provinces or Cities as Cebu, Iloilo or Bacolod.  Neither does media use “Luzon” when referring to Albay, Bicol or Ilocos.

It’s about time, perhaps that the media collectively take on the responsibility of finally eradicating the “Mindanao stigma” and its destructive effects.  I admit that this task would be long and hard, but starting now will do a lot in safeguarding not only the good image but also the potentials of the other provinces, cities or regions where none of these evils occur but which are too unlucky to slip into the “Mindanao” branding trap. This applies to Bloggers and the Web media, as well.



  1. Granted that Sulu may be just one part of Mindanao and generalizing it with the rest of the island is unfair, it is my belief though, that you have failed to take into account the issue of proximity or that you have taken account of proximity but down played it somewhat.

    The anti-Mindanao travel advisory is just that… advice to play it safe. Sulu seems to serve as a staging point/base of operations for these terrorists, but we have to admit that they are not confined there either. They are most likely spread through-out the country, it seems only logical that the main concentration of these individuals would be somewhere closer to “home”. What I am attempting to point out to you is, though I agree with you that the stigma is unfair, it is also “well-founded”. People shouldn’t tempt fate, if they are able help it. Until the problem has met a justifiable resolution, I think it wise to heed the warnings.

  2. Thanks for the comment @zealot. I can understand your concern about keeping safe, and ensuring that foreigners and non-foreigners alike are swell in all their travels. However, Travel Advisories (TAs), I suggest, should be guided by more accurate information. When travel advisories ban, or advise against travel to “Mindanao Island” without qualification (hence referring to the entire Region) that would be entirely unfair.

    I am referring to such TAs as the one released by the Australian Government, which, if you would observe, is steeped in the Mindanao stigma; and I quote:

    (Valid and current as of 12 June 2008 )
    “We strongly advise you not to travel to Mindanao, including mainland Mindanao, the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago, due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, including kidnapping and related counter-terrorism operations. Kidnap for ransom gangs are also active. If you are in these areas, you should consider leaving.”


    The Canadian Embassy, on the other hand, in a travel advisory which remains valid as of this writing, discourages travel ONLY to certain areas in Mindanao, and even makes particular exceptions, to wit:

    (Valid and current as of June 12, 2008 )
    “OFFICIAL WARNING: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against all travel to the Sulu Archipelago, Basilan, the Zamboanga Peninsula, Zamboanga del Sur, Saragani, Davao del Sur (excluding urban areas of Davao City), South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao. There is a threat of a terrorist attack, which could occur at anytime in this region. In the recent past there have been several bombings in a number of locations, including (but not limited to) Cotabato, Kidapawan, Zamboanga City, and General Santos City causing several deaths and numerous injuries. Kidnapping for ransom is a threat, as demonstrated by a recent event where a Western couple was abducted and released only after armed intervention.”


    The latter one (the Canadian) is more like it — an informed and more-or-less accurate TA. While it makes a general statement that Mindanao travel is unsafe, it takes the exception that certain areas may be safe (Davao City urban areas in particular). This kind of travel advisory makes me a tad happy in the face of this unfortunate Sulu UNdevelopment. I find it weird, however that Davao del Sur has been included. Let me list down the areas that, as per inference, are declared safe:

    SAFE FOR TRAVEL according to the Canadian advisory:

    Davao City urban and Samal Islands (IGACOS)
    Davao Province (Davao del Norte),
    Davao Oriental
    Compostela Valley
    Surigao City
    Surigao del Norte
    Surigao del Sur
    Butuan City
    Agusan del Norte
    Agusan del Sur
    Misamis Occidental
    Misamis Oriental
    Lanao del Norte
    Cagayan de Oro City
    Iligan City

    Did I miss any?

  3. I stand corrected and I would like to add, pleasurably so. I’m glad that you are one of those responsible writers , who take the time to give each topic their due diligence.

    You are right, TAs should strive to stick to the hard facts and try to present their findings in a more ethical manner.

    Given that you are a local, I guess your insights are more astute than those who are merely looking in from the other side of the window.

    Besides the whole is not merely a sum of its parts, is it?

  4. Well, i’d like to point it out this way: Sulu is not the whole Mindanao, and vice versa. What occurs in one place should be referred as occurring in that place. Hard as the “task” may be, there should be no generalization. It is simply unfair.

    That’s the responsibility that I, as a Dabawnon and resident Mindanawon, would like to see being practiced primarily by the Media (that have a guaranteed influence on public opinion).

    The people of Davao and of the other areas in Mindanao have for the longest time fallen victim to this branding blight. It’s like being accused of a crime you did not do, and you feel defenseless, helpless because everyone is pointing their accusing finger on you. 😦

  5. got you tagged..repost if you have

  6. Here, here. I’m an American about to visit Mindanao (specifically Davao) and I have heard the unsettling chatter regarding the supposed unsafe conditions across the island. I have also witnessed the unfortunate attitude held against it by islands in the North. I resigned myself to the possibility that I may be risking my life by visiting, only to find out the truth – I may be safer in Davao than in my own hometown of Portland, Oregon.

    After abundant study, I now look forward to my visit of (and possible retirement to, one day) Mindanao with a passion that I can’t even describe to my American compatriots.

    Your blog is an excellent testament to the quality of Mindanao – its beauty and its people.

    -Shawn, USA

  7. its very sad to think about the generalization of some national news about what is happening to our country unknowingly they give the people a wrong impression to the areas which is not in chaos, although davao city is declared as the most livable city in our nation the news gives us that barrier to the tourism. anyways, we are still lucky that many people like you who gives our city a good look and willing to stand that this place is a paradise.

  8. haha………. ok

  9. Впечатляет….

  10. “we are still lucky that many people like you who gives our city a good look and willing to stand that this place is a paradise.”
    I agree with jigs…

  11. I think it wise to heed the warnings.

  12. Bridex,
    On my site, I get comments and emails asking about the safety in Davao and I tell them I feel safer here than I have felt in some areas of the US.
    I remind them, even in Davao, there are places I would not visit, especially at night, but all cosmopolitan cities have areas like that.
    Last Christmas we spent the holiday in Kidapawan and felt safe there too. When we drove up to Agco Hot Springs, I had the window open to take photos and when many looked at me like a they never saw a foreigner. When I wished them a “Merry Christmas” they all smiled and wished me well too.

  13. Nice Blog.. Keep up the good work guys..

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