The sad and honest truth of the matter is kidnappings are happening in Zamboanga. However, this should not deter you from traveling in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga City, as long as you take certain precautions.
With the extension of Martial Law this 2018, some of the local police are positive that this will be lessened, but I will not pin my hopes on them. Under Duterte’s Martial Law, many abusive and reckless policemen feel more empowered, and tend to act with impunity. Innocent parties tend to be victimized. The danger is not that the local police will kidnap or steal from local tourists and visitors. The danger is that they might mistake you for a “spotter” or a “spy” and try to catch you without respect for your human rights.
Are there kidnappers in Zamboanga?
There are kidnapping syndicates in Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Norte and they have been operating for many years now. Kidnapping victims tend to be rich and influential people like mining executives, family members of politicians and public officials, and shop owners. Priests and missionaries have also been unfortunate victims in the past decades.
Last August 2016, for instance, a family was kidnapped at Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay after recently earning P300,000 from the sale of coconut.
Only last October 2019, a rich couple was kidnapped at a resort in Tukuran, Zamboanga Del Sur. According to this article in The Guardian, “The man is a dual national who has lived in the province, where he and his wife own and operate several businesses, since 2013… Two of the suspects checked into the resort a day before the abduction and waited for the couple to arrive.” (Their modus operandi of waiting at the resort first before the rest of the gunmen arrive reminds one of a similar abduction incident in Samal Island, Davao last 2015.)
However, I was told that in Zamboanga City, people tend to be so desperate that they victimize even ordinary citizens like a teacher or laundry woman. Take note that there is a rise in kidnapping cases near the election.
Is It Safe to go to the Tourist Areas in Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Norte?
There are many touristy areas that are perfectly safe; they are well-guarded and well-populated. Riding a public transportation is safe; once you reach a certain area, go straight to the local municipal office or in the case of villages, to the barangay hall and find out if a guide or military escort is required to visit a certain tourist spot.
I have stayed in Zamboanga City and I had no problem going around just fine. I was warned by the police not to go to remote areas that the police will have a hard time reaching in case of kidnapping.
I was exploring in Zamboanga Sibugay alone last August, particularly in the beaches of Buug and Ipil, and the locals proudly tell me that it is quite safe in their area. They have well-built roads also. Indeed, the places we went to were so peaceful and pristine.
I also went to gorgeous Buluan Island in Zamboanga Sibugay and there were military people stationed there. It is around 30 minutes from the main land.
My guess is, unless the kidnappers have identified you as a possible victim (probably through a local spotter) you really have nothing to worry about. It’s not like there are vehicles of kidnappers lying in wait in strategic areas. Kidnappers make a move when they know that the police are far away and they can make a quick escape to their hideout, or in the case of the Abu Sayyaf Group, to the port where they have their fast boats. Places accessible by roads are crucial in their operations.
Staying in remote and isolated resorts without fast access to police rescue should be a cause for concern, as they may be “spotters” who could tell ASG that there are possible victims around.
Again, I urge you to contact the local authorities, barangay hall or tourism office FIRST before going straight to your tourist destination. Most of them would probably tell you that there is nothing to worry about, but it’s better to err on the side of caution. You know what they say, better to be safe than sorry!