Sorry for the communication gap. It's not as easy to stay in touch in Mindanao as it is in Manila.I'm in Zamboanga now, after 5 days in Davao. Everything's been going well so far. I had to wake up kind of distressingly early for my flight, but I'm still mostly functional, was able to pull off an interview with the chief of staff of the local congresswoman. It would have been the congresswoman herself, but she was called away for a meeting with the President. People and their priorities, no?Davao is also a pretty fascinating city. It's basically under a kept under an elightened reign of terror by the Mayor and his death squads. So, it's very safe, very clean, the mayor is open to dialogue or rallies on issues related to the environment or globalization, but one step over the line, and you're likely to end up with a bullet in your head. Especially for drug use, theft, other common crimes -- or criticism of the Mayor,Which most people, naturally are afraid to do. There has been almost no one willing to speak out against him -- one radio host did, survived having his station bombed and his house ambushed, only to die when his long-time card playing buddy was paid to stab him. All rumors of course, because the local press isn't suicidal enough to report on it. (Although the mayor is broadcast every Sunday reading his list of people he's giving a last chance to turn themselves in for rehabilitation, or, basically, be get shot) But everybody knows whats going on, and several people I talked to had witnessed people getting shot or stabbed by the death squads. The going rate, apparently, is a bit less than $100 a head for an assassination, conducted mostly by Rebel returnees or common criminals cut a deal to escape summary execution themselves.
I can write this here, because I know that it's basically just family and friends that read this, but to go into more detail in a more public forum would be a decision never to return to Davao. And I can't document anything, and couldn't without a long time to do slow, deep, careful investigative work.
On the lighter side, I stayed out of trouble, and thus managed to actually have a good time in Davao. It's much less chaotic than Manila -- fewer people over a larger area. Mindanao is one of the few islands in the Philippines that's not highly overpopulated. And has some of the cleanest municipal tap water, which is a nice change. When you get thirsty downtown, instead of having to get bottled, you buy a plastic bag full of water for a peso, rip it open with your teeth, and try to drink it before it spills all over your shirt. I've learned all kinds of new things to do with plastic bags. Eat rice and soup for example. Or, rice and noodles, since you must eat rice with everything here, even if you have another starch.
I was in town for the 7th anniversary of Davao City Food not Bombs, so got to help out with a mass feeding and an art session for street kids. I have a lot of photos, but will probably have to wait until I get back to Manila to post them, as it would take hours with this connection.
Zamboanga City, so far, does not seem as fearsome as its reputation. Part of the problem, I think, is that Zamboanga City is actually quite a bit safer than the surrounding areas, so the media always report from here. Thus, any reports on incidents in Basilan, Maguindanao, Sulu, will be filed with a Zamboanga dateline -- ironically, because it's relatively calm rather than because it's a hotspot of insurgency. In any case, I have hosts here from a local NGO, so nobody's letting me wander off alone into any stupid situations. Now I'm just trying to figure out how to get the US military here to talk to me...