Debunking Myths about Mindanao

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. He asked me where I came from: I said curtly: “Mindanao.” “Ha? Muslim ka?” (You’re a Muslim?) His startled reaction was overrated. And he scampered away. Though I was glad to have whisked him off (albeit not intentionally by saying I was from Mindanao), I was surprised that he ran away at the mention of Mindanao.

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 Maguindanao 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 led by our widely-respected Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, 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. around pilipinas

17 Comments on "Debunking Myths about Mindanao"

  1. Elizabeth O. | July 10, 2015 at 1:59 am | Reply

    Funny how we watch and criticize other countries for their discriminating acts, but it is also happening here in the Philippines. So sad.

  2. I’m also one of those people who are afraid to visit Mindanao but I agree that not all places are unsafe. So far I’ve visited Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Camiguin.

  3. Huhu I feel so guilty. I actually like to visit Mindanao but my sister keeps telling me na it’s dangerous. I have this thinking tuloy na it’s really not safe but this changes everything. Thank you for sharing. Hopefully I can convince her to go with me. :)

  4. Admittedly, I haven’t been to any place in Mindanao yet. Not because, I don’t find it safe but because I just haven’t finish exploring Luzon and Visayas yet. Hopefully, I could start visiting those exciting places mentioned here soon.

  5. We have muslim friends who came from Mindanao and they are all nice and generous persons. It is so sad how filipinos judge each other by religion, I hope this discrimination will end na.

  6. blame the media. it’s always trying to sensationalize everything and turn facts into myths like these. :(

  7. Only few places in Mindanao are unsafe not the entire island. I live in Cagayan de Oro City at present, and have lived in Iligan City for 10 years, and my hometown is Zamboanga City. And I love Mindanao!

  8. Hope the media can also feature the good side and awesome views of Mindanao. As for Davao, I think the city is making a good portrayal of the great side of Mindanao.

  9. I’ve been privileged to visit some parts of Mindanao and I never felt unsafe. Davao is said to be safer than Metro Manila, and Samal Island truly is beautiful. I’ve taken a roadtrip to Kidapawan, and to Lake Sebu. Also took to the road from Dapitan City to Pagadian City. Isn’t Bukidnon also in Mindanao? All beautiful places. Made me appreciate the beauty of nature and also reflect that Mindanao is rich in resources, if only investors would see beyond the myths.

  10. This only proves how media influence the impression of many about Mindanao.

  11. Visit Mindanao, why not? I am currently in the desert and friends with a lot of Muslim. We need to stop stereotyping. There will always be a good and bad people so it is not fair that some people does not welcome our dear Muslim brothers. I would love to visit Mindanao.

  12. I am from Mindanao. It is a beautiful place. If people get scared to visit, it is going to be their loss. There are only few places in Mindanao that are considered conflict-prone areas.

  13. I think I’m also guilty of that. Thanks for setting it out clearly… I will change my mindset about Mindanao.

  14. I know how beautiful Mindanao is. Actually, going there is on my travel bucket list. Thank you for clearing and after reading this, I will never have a second thought about visiting Mindanao.

  15. I actually don’t consider the Mindanao as a whole scary though their are places which tourist are not allowed. I always dreamed to discover the beauty of Mindanao which people most don’t see.

  16. It’s not that I’m scared with the thought about Mindanao but I just don’t have time exploring places. I actually want to visit the island too!

  17. I have never been to Mindanao and I confess I am scared of going there as well because of what people say about it. We do tend to put labels and judgments on people and cultures

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