DAVAO CITY — Mindanao is safe and peaceful.
Secretary Maria Belen Acosta, chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), made this statement as she refuted a recent travel advisory issued by the Canadian government that painted the region in a bad light.
“We are disheartened to know of the recent advisories from embassies strongly discouraging travels to Mindanao. Many of these advisories do not reflect the current situation in the island-region,” said Acosta.
The advisory released by the Government of Canada on January 10 urged tourists to avoid traveling to the following provinces of Mindanao due to the serious threat of terrorism, kidnapping, high levels of crime, and violent clashes between the security forces and rebel groups.
The Mindanao provinces mentioned in the advisory are Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao), Northern Mindanao (Bukidnon, Camiguin, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, and Misamis Oriental), Soccsksargen (Cotabato, Sarangani, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat), and Zamboanga Peninsula (Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, and Zamboanga Sibugay).
For Eastern Mindanao, the advisory urged tourists to avoid non-essential travel to the following: Caraga (Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Dinagat Islands, and Surigao del Norte, excluding Siargao Island and Surigao del Sur).
Only Davao City was spared from the negative advisory. The rest of the Davao Region was included in the advisory for Eastern Mindanao.
Acosta said though there may be uncontrolled incidents like any transforming communities, these do not warrant serious concerns.
She cited notable gains in the region’s peace and order climate, like the lifting of the declaration of state of national emergency on account of lawless violence in Mindanao by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
She assured that Mindanao is safe for economic and leisure travel.
“Rest assured that we will continue to bring development closer to the communities through a whole-of-government approach,” Acosta said.
Where did they get that?
Tony S. Peralta, chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP)-Southern Mindanao Business Council, wondered where the Canadian government got the information when they issued the recent travel advisory.
“The business of creating travel advisories should have input from the government and not be based on hearsay,” Peralta said.
He added, “These will have a direct impact on the way businesses are conducted. If the executives from other countries would try to come, they are advised by their company not to since they are not covered by their insurance provider.”
He said one sector that will feel the impact of the advisory is the tourism sector.
Peralta stressed that another important factor to consider is the perception of Mindanao if nothing is done about correcting these advisories.
“If we don’t do anything about these, the chances of more advisories will make it more difficult for us to get out of that problem of negative perception,” he said.
Gains of Peace
Adrian Tamayo, public relations chief of MinDA, said that Mindanao is currently experiencing the gains of peace, in stark contrast to the way the travel advisory portrays the region.
“The best evidence of the gains of peace is the reduction of poverty owing to the fact that there are no IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) around. Because there are no IDPs, no bakwits anymore, they are finding their ways, exercising their freedom, exercising their right to live,” Tamayo said.
Another evidence is the quarterly monitoring survey of peace, security, and safety in Mindanao.
He said in the most recent survey held in Caraga, the peace, security, and safety rating was 88 percent. He said the safest places in Caraga Region were in the provinces of Agusan del Sur and Dinagat Islands.
“If we could remember that Agusan del Sur before was a rebel-infested area, when we did the study there, the people said that they were moving towards the government side,” Tamayo said.
Another evidence is that young people across Mindanao, which could easily be swayed to violent extremism, now, based on their study, want to work and find jobs.
“These young people now have those thoughts because they do not want conflict anymore,” Tamayo said.
He said Mindanao business leaders and government officials, particularly from the security sector, will be making their respective statements regarding the travel advisory where the conditions that led to the negative advisory are non-existent.
Tamayo said that one of the urgent priorities of MinDA Sec. Acosta is to meet with Canadian Ambassador David Hartman to discuss the travel advisory. PIA DAVAO