Mindanao, Safe & Sound
Mindanao, Safe & Sound
Image © 2012 Ronald de Jong
When you travel to and in Mindanao, the odds are you will have an incident-free and safe trip; unfortunately, there is always a small risk that you can become a victim of crime or will experience unexpected difficulties.
Safety begins at home, whether you are abroad or in the Philippines, it is important to choose your travel destination with wisdom and care, there are some conflict ridden locations in Mindanao, but there are far more many places where you are as secure as you can be. The most Southern provinces of the island are hassle free and will offer you a wonderful time. Mindanaoans are the friendliest and hospitable people in the world, but like in any other location on earth, it is essential to be well informed, accept a part of good advice and take some necessary precautions to ensure your personal well-being.
The Philippine Government and local authorities are doing everything reasonable to guarantee the safety of everyone, still it might take some getting used to see many military personnel and police officers maintaining peace and order by patrolling the streets, the roads having various checkpoints and that almost all public places use armed security guards to protect employees, customers and property You can expect to be subject to frequent security checks in hotels, restaurants, resorts, bus stations and shopping malls. Shopping is always an enjoyable and rewarding experience, both in bargain and variety. The air-conditioned malls virtually offer everything that you will need and are a real blessing in this warm , tropical Island, they are a one-stop destination with cinemas, restaurants and food courts. These commercial centers also have their own fair share of felony, pushy beggars and many others are more than happy to takeunfair advantage of unwary travelers. Most of them are young children hanging around in the malls and outside the parking lots; they can be quite a nuisance when flocking around you and relentlessly beg for a few pesos. Not by any means give money to those irritating kids, you will be confronted with even moreannoying juveniles that will stand in front of you and block your pathway. If they continue to follow or harass you, try to avoid these ankle biters and seek assistance from the store staff or security guards.
There are many street vendors roaming the city sidewalks and countryside of Southern Mindanao that can overwhelm you with all sorts of unwanted attention, some can be quite persistent and very obtrusive, nearly all of them trying to make some kind of income by flogging you counterfeit and pirated goods, overpriced wares and other products of inferior quality. Only use reputable stores, purchasing items from street vendors is strongly discouraged. Always go to a bank if you want to exchange your own currency in pesos, they generally provide fairly standardized and decent rates, moneychangers can also be found at department stores, supermarkets and hotels, but the rates are most of the time highly unfavourable. Be wary of sneaky individuals who want to exchange money on the street. It is not advisable to carry too much cash on you, ATM, s are widely available in cities throughout the island, but may not be present in smaller villages or in remote areas. It is preferable to use ATMs during the day, when there are more people around. You are setting yourself up as a sitting duck if you flash your money or carry wads of bills in your pocket, it is much better to keep a low profile to avoid excessive attention.
Traveling is fun and exciting, if you want to explore and discover the true island culture and mingle with the locals, but would rather leave the driving to someone else, a brightly-painted jeepney, multi-cab or minivan are great ways of low cost public transportation. It is also possible to hop on a bus, how much you pay depends on your desired comfort level and the distance you want to travel. The cheaper buses are the ones that you should be the most careful on, but it is important to practice awareness with any form of public transportation because you will really get to ride with just about anybody. For riding short distances a tricycle is the most common mean of conveyance, they are dime a dozen in cities and villages. Always agree on a price for your trip before you get in, just ask the driver if he knows the place where you want to go and do not pay for the ride until you have reached your destination. Taxis are generally available within the major cities but are usually not used for travel across the various provinces and mountainous regions. Confirm that the driver will turn on the meter before getting inside any taxi, if a taxi driver doesn't want to do so or tells you it is broken, then you can be sure you're getting ripped off. Some drivers can even be abusive and tend to cheat on the fare. When taking taxis, if possible have hotel staff call the taxi, otherwise take one from a taxi stand rather than hailing one in the street.
The province of Sarangani is well-known for its powder white sands and crystal clear waters; many local and foreign tourists visit the exotic beaches and marvellous resorts all year round. Regrettably, opportunistic criminals go to even these alluring seafronts as well, searching for valuables that lie unattended while the owners are having lots of fun in the water and are not giving any attention to their belongings in all of the excitement of a day's outing. While they go for a swim, in the blink of an eye, their property is gone leaving them to bear the burden of their own carelessness and ignorance, Thefts at beaches have been a great problem that has bothered its visitors for as long as anyone can remember, although in many cases it was not the result of chance but rather of choice. So do not leave your possessions without proper supervision, stick to the main beaches that are well guarded and where plenty of people enjoy the sea, the sand and the sun, as the saying goes, the more eyes the better.
The cities of General Santos and Koronadal offer some of the most convenient hotels and resorts. For a short stay or an overnight stopover some budget hotels and pension houses in the area are providing a practical alternative to the major hotels. The last thing you want to worry about is hotel security, but when you return from a day of activities it will be an unpleasant experience to find out that your quarters have been ransacked and a sure way to put a damper on your trip. Pay close attention to your location; make sure that there are security guards on the premises and that the hotel is situated in a residential neighbourhood. The door locks in the smaller hotels and pension houses in the region are mostly of poor quality, if at hand, use the extra bold and keep your key in the lock. Never leave your camera equipment and other valuables out of sight and do not let your room unlocked, even if you're just stepping out for a short while. Not at any time open the door if you aren't expecting anybody and not under any condition let strangers in your accommodation, even if they look and act friendly.
The island of Mindanao prides itself with the many colourful and vibrant festivals held in every town, attracting hundreds of passionate participants and even more enthusiastic spectators. Large crowds also attract crafty pickpockets and ruthless purse-thieves, these immoral sticky fingers work alone, in pairs and in groups. Snitching is one of the more frequent crimes against tourists and locals alike. Crooks and unscrupulous scroungers can come in all shapes and sizes, from small, quick-witted children to distracting men, smooth, pretty women and everything in between. It could be someone "accidentally" bumping into you on the street, in a busy shopping mall or on a Jeepney. It only takes a couple of seconds for a shamelessbandit to strike, quite a few minutes to realize it's happened and several hours or days to deal with the terrible consequences. While taking photographs don't carry a bulky wallet in a rear pocket and stay on your toes to the people around you, nothing can spoil a joyful event faster than getting your pocket picked and turning a tremendous day into your worst nightmare ever.
Staying safe and sound is largely a matter of using your common sense at all times and a continuing alertness towards your surroundings, no matter how beautiful that might be.