US, AU travel advisories worry SouthCot governor

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/20 June) – South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. has expressed concern over the impact of the province’s inclusion in the travel ban issued by the governments of Australia and the United States for their citizens who were visiting the country.

Pingoy said the travel advisories, which were issued last week, may likely affect the local government’s ongoing preparations for the province’s 45th foundation anniversary and 12th T’nalak Festival slated next month.

He said the travel warnings mainly appear “as if nobody should ever come over to our place” due to the security threats.

“But we know that this is not the real situation here in Mindanao so these advisories are unfair for us here,” Pingoy said.

The governor said the province has remained relatively peaceful these past months and the area’s overall security condition has been considered stable.

Based on the latest travel advisory issued by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian citizens were strongly advised not to travel to the central and western regions of Mindanao due to “very high threat of terrorist attack, kidnapping, and violent crime.”

The areas covered by the travel ban were Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Cotabato City, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sarangani, Misamis Occidental, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and Sulu.

“Armed clashes between Philippine security forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or other armed groups could occur anywhere, anytime in central and western Mindanao,” it said.

On June 15, the United States government issued a travel warning directing traveling American citizens to “exercise extreme caution if traveling to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago.”

“Regional terrorist groups have carried out bombings resulting in injuries and death. Sporadic clashes have occurred between lawless groups and the Philippine Armed Forces throughout Mindanao, particularly in rural areas. U.S. Government employees must seek special permission to travel to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago,” it said.

Despite the travel ban, Pingoy the provincial government will continue with its plans to invite foreign travelers and bring back its former residents or balikbayans to the province to witness the area’s festivities on July 12 to 18.

The province is planning to host a balikbayan night dubbed “Dayon sa South Cotabato” during the festivities, he said.

“We’re taking these travel advisories as a challenge for us to even work harder to correct these negative perceptions about Mindanao and our province,” he said.

Pingoy said they are banking on the foreign tourists and estimated 300 balikbayans who are expected to return home next month to be ambassadors of goodwill for the province. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)