Embattled Mindanao

Embattled Mindanao

Mindanao, Philippines, October 2008.

My dad was a journalist in college (maybe even post-college) in the Philippines, but he gave it up because he said it was too dangerous. He was right.

Of the top 20 most dangerous countries for journalists listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Philippines ranks fifth, with 38 dead since 1992. This number doesn’t include those killed in the recent Maguindanao massacre, in which more than 30 journalists died, bringing the total to 88 and earning the Philippines the unfortunate distinction of second place, right behind Iraq.

The CPJ actually now considers the Philippines the most dangerous country for media. Interestingly enough but unsurprising, most of the 38 listed on their site covered corruption.

Mindanao, the island where the massacre took place, has long been plagued by political conflicts and violent attacks from militant Islamic groups. Just recently, in July of this year, a bomb went off outside a Christian cathedral and killed 5, injuring dozens more.

My dad is from Mindanao. My mom was so terrified of it that, despite spending much of her life in the Philippines, she never set foot in Mindanao until last year, when my family and I visited (the first time my dad, sister and I had been back since we emigrated in 1992).

My friends warned me to steer clear of the island, repeating horror stories we’d heard many times before. Even though we were in the northern part of Mindanao, away from the usually targeted areas, I admit I was a bit apprehensive when we landed.

But in the few days I was there, my fears were unrealized. The people were incredibly nice. A cab driver even returned my dad’s bag carrying his laptop and wallet when he forgot it in the car. Much of it is really beautiful.

It’s a shame that amid such beauty, so much violence pervades.

A security guard keeps watch in the hotel lobby.

A student at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro.

The streets there aren’t as chaotic as Manila’s.

Tricycles and Jeepneys are usually in vibrant colors, often decorated to the drivers’ liking.

A neighborhood stand.

A woman surveys the streets.

Where the balloons live

Before I headed back to Richmond, I ventured out to the city yesterday for some pre-Thanksgiving fun. Nothing sounded more awesome than watching balloons being inflated by the Museum of Natural History for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I imagined myself happily snapping away as the balloons slowly took form and floated into the big blue sky.

That image was tarnished as soon as I stepped outside. First of all, it was almost dark (This happens around, what, 4 p.m. now?). Second, it was raining. And third, there were too many people there, namely kids. Now, I love kids as much as the next non-maternal woman, but they’re pretty much guaranteed to step into shots, obstruct your view (hoisted on their parents’ shoulders) and the like. In many cases, this still could present the opportunity for great familial pictures, except it was too crowded and we were herded like cattle, nicely encouraged by staff to keep moving so as to keep the next group of gawkers happy.

Instead of happy pictures and big blue sky, there was rain, serious multitasking (one hand on the camera, the other on the umbrella), and disgruntled strangers.

“Watch your umbrella!” said the angry woman behind me.
“It’s not even raining!” some guy muttered.
“Oof!” said another after my umbrella stabbed his neck (I guess you could say this one was warranted).

Further, the floats looked like they were held captive, waiting to be freed the following morning for the spectacle that awaited them. Mickey Mouse wasn’t soaring above us, his white gloves in a permanent high five. A net covered him from head to toe. The Pillsbury Doughboy, making his first appearance at the parade, lay with his head on the pavement, weighed down by sandbags. At the end of the line, men and women in bright colored uniforms inflated yet another one doomed to meet its Gulliver-like fate.

Still, beneath all that unglamorous presentation, I admit there was something kind of magical about it.

Happy Thanksgiving, you.

Mickey under siege. Photographers nearby looked through their photos.

Two pups.

Hordes of balloon lovers.


Pillsbury Doughboy eats it.

Lilliputian hijinks.

Pooh from behind. What a great last glimpse.