How safe is Mindanao? A good question. Make no mistake, you can get into serious trouble in Mindanao. You can get kidnapped, held for ransom, murdered, robbed, raped, ripped off, burgled, whatever. Of course all of that and more can happen to you anywhere in the Philippines; anywhere in the world in fact. So why does Mindanao have this reputation of being a dangerous place for foreigners?
Does It Have A Reputation?
Not among those expats who live there, except they seem to take a perverse pride in telling you they live in Mindanao and it is not the dangerous locale everyone seems to think, wink, wink. Of course it all depends on where in Mindanao you happen to live. And who you live with or among. Make no mistake, it is not mentioned specifically in all western nation’s travel warnings for no reason. It can be a dangerous place, but then plenty of foreigners have died on any of the other islands in the archipelago, too.
Mindanao has always been a thorn in the side of the rest of the country. When the Spanish occupied the islands they never really settled the southern islands of Mindanao, Tawi Tawi and those leading to Sabah and the island of Borneo. The strong Islamic faith of the inhabitants never wavered and few converted to Catholicism. When the Americans took over from 1898, they subdued the rest of the country, more or less, in a few years, but they were still fighting the Moro’s on Mindanao and neighbouring island chains in the 1920s.
Where Is Safe On Mindanao?
Everywhere is safe, but some places are safer than others. Safety is a relative term. If you are married to a local Muslim princess I figure you can go anywhere you choose. If your local connections are limited to a nodding relationship with the security guard outside your Davao hotel, I wouldn’t wander too far off the beaten path. Davao is a pretty safe city thanks to the aggressive policing of crime by the mayor, known to dispatch the odd criminal personally with his own .45. Cagayan De Oro is full of foreigners who swear it is the best place in the country to live and Bukidnon is up in the hills and nice and cool with just a little NPA activity to keep you on your toes.
Zamboanga is ok, some say, but don’t go out alone at night. The ARMM and adjacent Muslim majority provinces might also be a bit of a concern, but again, it depends who you are, how you behave and so forth. Unless you marry into the area and must live there, there are so many more alternatives on Mindanao alone there is little reason to tempt fate unnecessarily. The eastern side of the island is considered safe for foreigners and there are lots of islands off the coast where no one will ever find you if you decide to hide away on one. Go and take a look for yourself… I dare you.