Rama: The ink is barely dry

·3 min read

Days after word came out that Cebu’s Christina Frasco was going to be tourism secretary, pundits already have something to say.

An item of interest was the incoming cabinet secretary’s intention to “shine a spotlight on the lesser-known leisure destinations in the country,” so that local government units could leverage their own tourism potential and jump-start their local economies.

After all, tourism contributed US$41 billion to the economy in 2021 even though only locals were allowed into the country’s tourist destinations that year. Foreign travelers were only allowed in last February.

One critic in particular—a veteran investigative writer based in Luzon—took “lesser-known destination” to mean Mindanao and then went to Twitter to say:

“Apparently, Frasco would like to open up Mindanao to tourism. I’m sure the extremist Abu Sayyaf and other bandits would be pleased by the prospects of so many potential kidnap victims. Way to go, Frasco. Prep(are) yourself for ransom negotiations. ASG might ask you to nego(tiate) personally.”

Although the statement rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, including other journalists and writers from Mindanao, today’s issue isn’t on who picked a bone with who. So, if you want the juicy bits, you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Today is going to be about keeping our own misconceptions in check when it comes to Mindanao.

Though I trace my paternal ancestry to Cebu City, I am from the hills and islands of Surigao del Norte of the Caraga Region in northeastern Mindanao on my mother’s side.

It is a place where I spent significant parts of my growth years, and a place that I run to when I am in need of quiet perspective-taking. It is a place where I have both residence and holding.

But I hesitate to call myself a son of Mindanao because Mindanao is not one homogeneous place.

It is a place so vast and diverse that it seems unfair to generalize myself as being “of Mindanao” based only upon my hailing from one fifth-class municipality of 15,043 people sharing a 53.34-square-kilometer sliver of former jungle.

Mindanao is at least 97,530 square kilometers vast and, as of 2021, it is home to 27,021,036 people, making it the seventh most populous island in the world and the 19th largest island according to land area, just three positions behind Luzon.

It is divided into six administrative regions and comprises nine major islands, 28 provinces, 26 cities, and more municipalities, barangays, cultural communities, and ethno-linguistic groups than would make sense to write about now.

Generalities breed inaccuracies.

Similarly, using a simplex lens over something so diverse leads to a homogenous gaze and doesn’t work either.

One such simplex lens is the military lens, the one that incoming tourism secretary Frasco’s critic used.

Mindanao has pockets of conflict, yes. There are various resource conflicts whose nature often gets blurred by an insurgency movement. But that is as much true for Luzon and the Visayas as it is for Mindanao. There are pockets of resource conflicts everywhere and, last time I checked, the insurgency movement is nationwide.

The only thing that makes its conflicts stand out is separatist struggle brought about by the shared aspiration of the Bangsamoro in southern Mindanao for self-determination.

That process was long and hard but is normalizing. The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was formed, with the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in early 2019, and transition is ongoing despite the pandemic.

The ink is barely dry.

This applies to incoming tourism secretary Frasco, but applies even more appropriately to the unfolding story that is Mindanao. If we can’t afford to give Attorney Frasco the benefit of the doubt, fine. But Mindanao more than deserves it.

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