It didn’t take long. Within hours of an article being posted by a National Newspaper in New Zealand about a beauty queen (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/74332702/kiwi-beauty-pageant-contestant-flees-philippines), Cagayan de Oro and Mindanao became a national talking point in the Philippines. Articles with most major national news sites and Facebook pages in the Philippines popped up pretty quick, discussing and highlighting the negative thoughts. The article and its stereotyping of Cagayan de Oro as being “worse then Afghanistan” and the negative experiences of a foreign beauty queen quickly escalated Filipinos to start to judge, debate, defend and get to the bottom of the statements made. It was a hot topic all over the country and of course here in Cagayan de Oro City, the place I call home in Northern Mindanao.
Yes, I am a foreigner living here in Cagayan de Oro. Although to be honest I don’t feel foreign here at all. I have lived here now on and off for over two years. I have become close with this community and am proud to call this city my home. Since day one I have always been aware of the advisories, negative issues and stereotypes that face the people here in Northern Mindanao and Mindanao in general. At first they definitely put a little bit of fear into my life. I was a little more cautious and fearful then my usual self. There are so many negative thoughts thrown around about Mindanao on a daily basis, through media, internet and in general chit-chat that it would be hard not to have a little fear when you hear that word.
So where am I going with this?
Well the more I read articles and comments about this beauty queen, and the article written overseas. The more I see Filipinos take uproar about how ridiculous and overly negative the statements about Cagayan de Oro City and Mindanao were… The more I started thinking about it all.
It is a fact that Filipinos are interested in foreign opinions. Most of the time if there is an article of praise or criticism about the Philippines involving a foreigner they will be more popular. In fact I am living proof of that. I am aware that many people are probably intrigued about my opinions because I am Canadian and have no Filipino background. It provides a different insight. Knowing this, I also have to be careful whenever I write or post and remember the effect it could have.
But when it comes to this “Mindanao Issue” and stereotypes. I have developed a strong belief on the topic. It is a homegrown issue that needs to be addressed in the Philippines first and foremost. What do I mean by “addressed in the Philippines?”
Let me share with you what happens often when I am outside of Mindanao travelling:
Filipino: “Hey Man! Where are you from.”
Me: “I am from Canada but I live in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao (I will share this in Bisaya/Tagalog).
Filipino: “What! Abu Sayaff! Aren’t you afraid of the bombs! You shouldn’t be there! You will be kidnapped!
Me: “Excuse me. I have lived there for two years and driven around every province in Northern Mindanao on a scooter exploring. It is beautiful and I love living there.”
Filipino: “No it is too dangerous.”
Me: “Have you been there?”
Filipino: “No I wouldn’t go! Like I said, it is too dangerous, the people there are bad and Abu Sayaff and terrorists are there.”
I didn’t over-exaggerate this conversation what so ever. I have been to 32 provinces now all over the country on a scooter, including every one in Northern Mindanao. This is very common and something that happens all the time when the word “Mindanao” is mentioned and discussed with Filipinos from outside of Mindanao. Now I am not taking away from the fact that yes Abu Sayaff exists, yes bombs have gone off, and yes there are areas that are very tense, dangerous and best be avoided by people who are not local. But, those things are not representative of Mindanao as a whole. If you have lived here for a long time and travelled around you will soon understand that Mindanao is massive, diverse and home to many beautiful, safe and happy places to explore! Just like anywhere in the world, you just need to do a bit of research and take the necessary precautions.
I have written articles about this before. But this New Zealand beauty queen issue really opened my eyes to something else…
I am completely convinced that the first thing that needs to be tackled is this negative perception at home in the Philippines. To me, when someone responds to Cagayan de Oro, or Mindanao with the words “Abu Sayaff, kidnappings and bombings” that is the ultimate in extreme talk. That is the kind of talk that doesn’t educate, is very extreme, is unproductive and simply put… is dangerous.
Why is it dangerous?
Because it is preaching negativity without experience, discussion and knowledge.
Millions of foreigners will come to the Philippines every year for travel, adventure, and holidays. A vast majority of them will go to places outside of Mindanao due to advisories and safety concerns. Even though I personally believe that Northern Mindanao is no different then travelling other areas of the Philippines, I completely respect and understand how others can be deterred from coming here. I would never take offence to that. The travel advisories that exist have their purpose and I don’t take offence to making people aware.
But what I do take offence to…
The thought that if these millions of foreigners mention “Mindanao” during their holidays outside of Mindanao, there is a high probability that they are being responded to in such an extreme way.
Earlier I said:
“It is a fact that Filipinos are interested in foreign opinions. Most of the time if there is an article of praise or criticism about the Philippines involving a foreigner they will be more popular.”
Well with the newspaper article in New Zealand. That was the case. It was negative extreme talk about an area in the Philippines. It had to be addressed. But what hit me the most about it? Negative talk about Mindanao is already everywhere in the Philippines. It is incredibly common from Filipinos all over the country and world. That type of extreme stereotyping and generalizing happens all the time on a local basis. Filipinos do it everyday.
I strongly believe the only way it is ever going to change in a positive way is if Filipino media and Filipino people around the country start to discuss it, interact about it, and challenge it more. I’d love to see more headlines challenging perception and Mindanao, discussing it, educating and interacting about it. Not just when it has foreigner perception.
Yes I am a foreigner and it may sound ridiculous that I am writing about Filipinos, challenging Filipinos without foreigner perception. But in regards to Mindanao…
This country needs more of it.
I believe it is more damaging how Filipinos view Mindanao. Not how a national Newspaper in New Zealand does. I believe the only way to truly stop the blunt negativity is by Filipinos making it a national talking point not just when foreigners are involved. Education can be a powerful thing.