Sulu hurting as foreigners warned to avoid Mindanao
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Travel advisories from at least four countries reminding their citizens to avoid Mindanao have been hurting local destinations whose leaders have been promoting to get potential investors in the region.
Mayor Bensar Estino of Panglima Estino town in Sulu said the advisories presented a setback for him and other town mayors who had been working hard to repair the image of their province.
The United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom warned their citizens to “avoid all travel to Mindanao, excluding urban areas of Davao City, due to the serious threat of terrorist attacks and kidnappings.”
Kidnap, terror threats
The warning also specified the Sulu archipelago, the southern Sulu sea and the waters off southern Palawan because of threats of piracy and kidnappings, and Marawi City because of terrorism and civil unrest.
“These advisories from big countries really push us backward, not just two steps but many steps behind,” Estino said.
He said the mayors had been investing a lot for image promotion, hoping “to clean their towns of (their bad image) and to generate better reviews from visitors” when martial law was declared in May 2017.
“Now even doctors and health workers are afraid to set foot on some of the islands and these are people from Jolo,” he said. “They feel something is wrong, especially when security has been tightened.”
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar said the travel advisories stemmed from the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and the July 31 explosion in Lamitan City, Basilan province, where 11 people were killed.
But Salazar said the advisories had not prevented foreign visitors from coming. “No less than Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely has been to Zamboanga City three times,” she said.
Some projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development also continued, she said, adding that their foreign partners have been “very supportive and generous in our campaigns.”
The advisories said terrorists and armed groups “may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, markets, shopping malls and local government facilities.”
Pedro Rufo Soliven, regional governor of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Zamboanga Peninsula, questioned the travel warning, saying most big cities in the world have not been spared from terror attacks.
“All countries are not safe when it comes to terror attacks but why are we being singled out?” Soliven said. “If we are not safe, why are we still here?”
On Tuesday, Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., said he was meeting security officials to ensure that nothing similar to the Basilan explosion would happen again. He said the blast was an isolated incident.
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