Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

July 7, 2007

“We are abducted”

Filed under: Mindanao — lapulapu @ 6:29 pm

mindanao road block

It was my first full day on the troubled and beautiful island of Mindanao. My driver had made a mistake. When I asked him what was happening, his reply was simply, “We are abducted.”

The ferry trip to Dapitan had gone smoothly and “the shrine city”, home of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal in his exile before the Spanish finally murdered him, turned out to be truly beautiful. Mindanao is unbelievably lush, and Dapitan lies on a lovely bay with mountains all around, like a miniature Rio. The next day I wanted to scout the nearby city of Dipolog as a potential retirement spot before heading for Iligan. Our expedition by motor cab (motorcycle with sidecar) was almost complete when we approached a sign warning vehicles like ours not to proceed. Cars and motorcycles were continuing on without incident and I guess my driver saw no reason why we should not too. Traffic signs of every kind are routinely ignored in the Philippines; people just sort of work things out as they go. This particular rule was being enforced, though, and after a long delay by the side of the road we were hauled off to the station. My driver looked like a ghost when he was finally released. He had been fined 1010 pesos ($22, several days earnings for him) and his vehicle would be impounded until he paid. I didn’t have time to work out all the angles and make a good play. The constraints were: 1) I had to get to Iligan pronto and 2) I couldn’t leave my amiable driver standing on the curb with P5 in his pocket, a huge debt, and no way to pay it off. I paid the fine and we went on our way.

My original plan for traveling through Mindanao was to do it with a native who had family and friends in each location at which we would stop. We would take the ferry, bouncing along the coast, to avoid the overland route where ambushes and kidnappings occasionally occur. The first blow to that plan came when I learned that the ferry I’d been counting on was no longer in operation. Ok. A relative of my traveling companion would take us in his private car. I had been told that private vehicle transport is usually quite safe as long as one stays away from military vehicles, drives fast through sections where people may shoot, and never ever stops for anything (never, for anything, including the many police checkpoints with STOP signs posted). A few days before we headed off I learned that our driver would be unavailable due to continuing complications having somehow to do with the May elections, which did not exactly go smoothly in Mindanao. We would be taking the bus, which, truth be told, I expected would be fine. I had looked into it and discovered no reports of buses being targeted on that route in a long time. I’m a true believer in statistics. The only things that made me a little nervous were that the initial part of our journey was along the base of the Zamboanga penninsula, where an Italian priest had recently been kidnapped, and that all sources, from the locals to the US State Department, were saying that the situation throughout Mindanao was particularly dangerous at the moment due to the recent elections, which were reported to have been spectacularly corrupt and the results of which were still not settled. Now our little abduction had set my schedule back and would have me getting into Iligian, passing through areas with heavy Muslim populations, after dark and in the rain. Oh, and alone. My companion had come down with something and was unable to travel.

When I boarded the bus I headed for a seat in the middle as I always do, but the driver directed me to sit immediately behind him, offering an ideal vantage point from which to witness his many acts of daring. Probably he wanted to be able to watch over me personally and to give me a good view of the television in front, which featured an extremely violent vampire flick followed by a suspense thriller about a terrorist bombing. If you ever travel alone by bus through Mindanao in the rain during election season you simply must seek out that sort of soundtrack. Not really knowing just how dangerous things were for me I decided to take every precaution, however needless. I left the shade drawn on my window, pulling it back just enough to see. My turn to wear the veil. I stayed put at most of the stops, but when it was time to urinate and I did get off, everyone was so friendly it made me feel silly. Though there wouldn’t be much I could do if an ugly situation developed, I remained very observant. The only episode of the trip that caused me any concern was when a lumber truck pulled slowly across the highway and stopped just as we approached, blocking our way. It was like a scene from a movie. Men quickly emptied out from the lumber truck and in a matter of seconds they were joined by men from another truck that approached in the oncoming lane. Only a minor traffic argument ensued, though, and we were soon moving again. About six hours on the bus and an unexpected additional hour on a ferry got us into Iligan, leaving me a good thirty minutes to freshen up and relax before meeting my local contacts for a night on the town.

1 Comment »

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    Comment by Bee And Wasp Removal Fourways — May 3, 2014 @ 11:21 pm

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