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About the Author

Iris Cecilia Gonzales
journalist (Quezon City, Philippines)

I work as a reporter for the Philippine Star, a Manila daily. At present, I cover the Department of Finance beat but I also write other stories here and there. I'm also a coffee and scotch drinker, a barefoot traveller and a collector of memories. I live in a parallel universe.


Mindanao: A Microcosm of the Philippines

Published 02nd April 2010 - 17 comments - 8963 views -

Residents ride past a military tank. Photo by Jes Aznar


MANILA, Philippines - Somewhere in the Southern Philippines is an island called Mindanao,  a place where people can while the time watching the setting of the sun and where children can play freely until the moon shines on the dry earth. It is a place where people dance barefoot to their own music, blind seers belt out songs on the karaoke and children carve out images from their dreams on the pristine white sand of the beaches in the island.

A lot of people, however, don't know about this. The Mindanao that is read on the pages of international newspapers and local dailies is just one part of the place that is called the Land of Promise.

Stories about the Philippines's second largest island are usually always about killings, kidnappings and terrorism. Mindanao is portrayed as a war zone of never ending conflict.

In the end, the real stories on the roots of the Mindanao problem are muddled with news of gore and blood, of terrorist groups and beheadings of priests and kidnap victims and of massacres and lawlessness.

Filipino photojournalist Jes Aznar, who has done extensive work in Mindanao, laments the fact that news on the island are usually commodified.

"The problem is that stories on Mindanao are commodified. Mindanao has become a source of stories that will cater internationally and can play nationally. These are stories depicting terrorism and stories linking local groups to (the global terrorist network) Al Qaeda. For journalists, that is how it works. The more stories you file, the more you earn," Aznar says in an interview with this blogger.

What happens is that journalists tend to filter the stories and choose which ones are attractive to the international and national audience.

In real life, Aznar says, Mindanao is not like that at all.

Ultimately, the real story of Mindanao is the lack of genuine development due mainly to the plunder of resources by those in power, he says.

"What's happening in Mindanao can represent what's happening in the Philippines. What is happening in the Philippines, you will see it in Mindanao, ten folds. It's a microcosm of the Philippines. Everything is happening in front of your eyes. There's the issue of land. There's the issue of corruption. There's the issue of poverty. There, anything goes. It's like the wild, wild West. Everything that is happening is happening in front of your eyes," Aznar says.

For him, he says, the biggest issues are the culture of impunity that is prevalent in the island and rampant corruption.

"It's a remote island. It's far from the seat of power so if you're the government, you can do anything you want with the resources," Aznar explains.

Indeed, Mindanao is a place of bountiful resources with major crops such as rubber, banana and pineapple. Fruits such as the exotic durian abound, too. It's also rich in metallic deposits. According to the Mindanao Economic Development Council, an agency under the Office of the President, gold mined in Mindanao accounts for nearly half of the national gold reserves in the country.

As a photojournalist, Aznar always tries to work independently.  "I don't choose what stories I do. I wouldn't consider myself an authority in Mindanao so everything is for discovery. I'm surprised indeed that there are a lot of stories in Mindanao. I was surprised with the stories I discovered. The biggest is the culture of impunity and rampant corruption," he notes.

He says journalists should scratch beneath the surface and look beyond the stories on terrorism. For his part, Aznar has done stories on the lives of internally displaced persons caught in the conflict in Mindanao, warlordism and rido or feuding among families and clans.

But for as long as the newspaper, wires and television reporters and photographers continue to focus merely on the blood and gore and all other stories on war in Mindanao, the real stories of people's struggle for genuine sustainable development would never be heard. The small voices of children who long to go to school and their parents who need to survive with proper employment, food and healthcare will fade in the background, drowned by the sounds of guns and bullets and the victorious laughter of corrupt government and military officials counting money shared from ransom payoffs.



Category: Media | Tags: media, mindanao,


  • Hanna Clarys on 02nd April 2010:

    Very nice post! And interesting because I think most of us have never heard of this island before. Correct me if I’m wrong, people!

    I share your opinion when you say that the real stories of the people should also be covered by the media in stead of always focusing on what is going wrong. But at the same time I believe that those stories cannot be told without taking into account these problematic issues of war, abductions and corruption. The lives of people inhabiting places like Mindanao are obviously bound with and shaped by those issues.

  • Iris Gonzales on 02nd April 2010:

    Dear Hanna,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, Mindanao is indeed a very interesting place. It is a place filled with stories and a place that should be seen in its fullness. Journalists like me truly have a lot of work to do.

    Thanks again!

  • Luan Galani on 05th April 2010:

    You do have a point. Great post. Great story!

  • Iris Gonzales on 06th April 2010:

    Thanks for your comment Luan! If ever get the chance to visit the Philippines, you should go to Mindanano because I read from you site that you want to cover such places. There is indeed a wealth of stories about the island.

  • Wawan on 14th April 2010:

    This post offers another perspective for outsiders to look at Mindanao, a place often described in many newspapers and news wires as warfare zone. Great job, Iris

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 15th April 2010:

    Thanks Wawan for reading this piece.

  • Debbie Uy on 15th April 2010:

    So true, Iris. Mindanao journalists are also not happy with how Mindanao is being portrayed in national and international media. Our island is stereotyped as war-torn and violent. That’s why we in our own ways are working to remove that negative perception, and that’s easier now thanks to the web.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 15th April 2010:

    Thank you for your comment Debbie. I am very well aware of the efforts of Mindanao-based journalists. You are all doing well. Hopefully, things will improve in the long-term.

  • Hanna Clarys on 15th April 2010:

    I just read in the news paper that 30 journalists have been killed on Mindanao in 2009. True? And if yes, how come?

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 16th April 2010:

    It is true Hanna and it’s one of the darkest periods in the history of Philippine journalism. Here’s why:

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 18th April 2010:

    Hanna, let me just update you and everybody else that the Philippine government has dropped charges against two brothers involved in the mass killings.

  • Hanna Clarys on 18th April 2010:

    That is just terrible! When governments and powerful families are linked… not such a good thing. Members of those families seem to be able to do everything they want and then go free. Isn’t that causing a lot of fear, not only with journalists etc. but also with the people? I just can’t really imagine how that must feel like…

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 18th April 2010:

    It’s hard Hanna. Yes it’s causing fear among people, innocent civilians etc. and journalists, too but we are all raging on against this. Will post a separate story on it in this blog.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 22nd April 2010:


    As I noted earlier, my latest post on updates on media killings is now up. For your info. Thanks and cheers.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 27th May 2010:

    Dear all,

    Sharing with you a photo story on how the country’s very first automated elections went in Mindanao last May 10.

  • debbie reynolds on 08th June 2010:

    i am trying to locate my husband. he has been in the mindanao area since jan. 2010. i have not heard anything from him in over a month. i think he may be in some trouble.his name is Bob or Robert Reynolds.he is an american.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 12th June 2010:

    hi Debbie,

    Sorry for my late reply and so sorry to hear about your husband. I will give his name to the authorities. You can email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) thanks.

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