I happened to pass by the old Intramuros in Manila late last month. There, on the walls of the old city, was a huge banner inviting people to an exhibit of culture and beauty of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Early this week, Ilocos Rep. Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos, urged the government to invest in "tourism development" as part of its “list of priorities” in line with the proposed P300 billion peso economic stimulus package.
On the same day Marcos delivered his speech, gunmen snatched two people in the province of Basilan, a place with pristine beaches and virgin forests, a place that could be ideal for tourism.
Spate of kidnappings
The kidnap victims are simple people trying to eke a living by working for a small organization that is engaged in "micro-finance" in the province.
The gunmen on a motorcycle took Leah Patris and Ahmad Ilang about 6 p.m. in the village of Upper Benengbengan in Sumisip town in Basilan this week.
Last week, gunmen also took a nine-year old boy and a midwife in Lamitan, also in Basilan. Earlier, a bakeshop owner and three teachers were taken in nearby Zamboanga City. They were also taken to Basilan.
At least more than a dozen people, including three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross, are in the hands of bandits in the provinces of Sulu and Basilan.
I agree with Marcos when he said that government's stimulus package "is welcome and sensible...but it will only work if the plan is sound and the priorities are right.”
Marcos may be right when he proposed that "aggressive promotion and the development of the country’s tourism industry" can help the country weather the global financial crisis.
Before thinking of aggressive promotion and tourism, the government must, however, first address the problem of kidnappings in the south. It is not easy to talk about the beauty of Zamboanga's sunset, the sweetness of Sulu's durian and the idyllic beaches of Basilan as people cower in fear.