When I am in the city and whenever people learn I am from Lianga and Surigao del Sur, one of the usual questions I am always asked is how do the people of my town and province deal, on a day to day basis, with the communist insurgency problem with which our part of the country is so identified with. The query is asked, often unwittingly, in a condescending or overly sympathetic manner as if I happen to come from a place totally ravaged and devastated by war and conflict. Poor, unfortunate me.
Maybe I should have the nerve to tell them outright that I was actually in greater danger of being injured or killed by reckless drivers or preyed upon by criminals in their city than being dealt the same unfortunate fate in my town or province as a result of rebel or insurgent activity. Most people in the urban centers, particularly in Metro Manila, just don't have any idea of what is happening in Mindanao in general and much more so in such a remote province as Surigao del Sur.
It is a fact that there is an insurgency problem in Surigao del Sur in general and in Lianga in particular. It has been a problem there for over two decades now. It has waxed and waned over the years but widespread poverty, the lack of economic opportunities in the area particularly in the rural countryside and the failure of government to address perceived social inequalities and provide basic services to the rural folk, has made it a permanent fixture in the lives of the local people.
But I, like most of the residents in Lianga and our province, have never felt personally threatened, on a daily basis, by that fact. I travel freely and regularly throughout Surigao del Sur in both private vehicles and public transports yet I worry more about the poor state of the roads and the possibility of road accidents than being shot at or harmed in any manner by communist rebels.
The populism with which the local communist rebels cloth their activities largely prevents them, at least in the Surigao del Sur setting, from engaging in random terroristic attacks against unarmed civilians. So unless you have done them or their supporters harm or have been convicted by revolutionary courts of "crimes against the people" you are more than likely never to see a communist rebel much less have contact with one.
Dealing with obtrusive military checkpoints and discourteous, trigger-happy government soldiers, on the other hand, used to pose a greater danger to one's personal safety and peace of mind in the past but cases of grave misconduct by government forces have declined somewhat in the recent years although it remains something to be constantly vigilant about. The importance of always having the proper identification cards and other proofs of identity is always a must and can prevent unnecessary delays and unwarranted aggravation when traveling here.
That is not to say that the on-going insurgency problem does not pose any danger at all to the ordinary guy living in or just visiting Lianga. One can get caught accidentally in the crossfire between government and rebel forces and may become part of the collateral damage but the risk of getting involved in such an incident would actually be lesser than the possibility of becoming a helpless victim of some form of criminal activity in an urban setting like Manila.
Thus living and working in Lianga is certainly as "safe" as it can be under the circumstances and visiting it is obviously not as crazy or foolhardy as most pampered city dwellers think it is. Like everything in this world, it is all relative and a matter of.....well.....perspective.
So I always tell my friends and relatives planning to visit me in Lianga for the first time not to worry too much about their personal safety while staying here. Chances are the only negative consequences to their physical wellbeing as a result of their sojourn here would be a bad case of sunburn on their backs and extremities covered with insect and mosquito bites.
So far, I have not been wrong or way off the mark. At least not yet.