We all hear about the US State Department warnings about travel to Mindanao and especially from Zamboanga del Sur south throughout the Sulu Archipelago and places within the ARMM.
From my personal experience and pinoy friends info, the situation there is reaching critical. I would not recommend anyone to visit there unless it was extenuating circumstances and then I would make it a same day visit only. There was a bombing across from the main bus terminal yesterday (UPDATE) 1 killed, 36 wounded in Zamboanga blast | Headlines, News, The Philippine Star | philstar.com
resulting in 1 death 36+ wounded.
In Sept 2013 there was a seige in Zamboanga City Zamboanga City crisis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
involving MNLF that crippled a muslim neighborhood and caused a lot of destruction of residential areas. Since that time frame, people with money have moved away.
I was there in December 2013 for my wedding and my friends were telling me about how things were getting worse. Kidnappings were on the rise. We had a close call as there was an attempted kidnapping at the resort we stayed in about 7 hours after we had left. When I got that word I vowed to not go back unless there was a significant improvement in the situation there.
Then the RP signed a peace deal with MILF in March 2014 which will lead to another vote for townships/cities to decide if they wish to join the ARMM. Philippines and Muslim rebel group sign historic peace deal | Al Jazeera America
In june 2014 the US announced that the Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines (JSOTF-P) would be withdrawn before 2015. That has now come about and the JSOTF-P is no more. US downsizes joint anti-terror task force with PHL | News | GMA News Online
In August 2014 I did a 2 day visit to Zamboanga City for a funeral. I felt that 2 days was just enough time for me to accomplish my business and get out before I could be tracked down for an attempted kidnapping. My friends told me that the situation was even more dire. There were daily random shootings, weekly kidnappings and people were being muscled out of their properties. I hired two people for security (known trusted individuals with M16s) and tinted window vehicles.
The RP Government has submitted a draft for Bangsamoro Basic Law Bangsamoro Basic Law | GMA News Online
to Congress for review. Once approved it will result in a vote by the towns/cities on whether or not they want to be a part of the ARMM.
I am of the mindset that the rebels will continue to up the violence until there is a vote and even after should things not go to their liking. Since 2011, the terrorist groups have been trying to align themselves under the ISIS group and unite. Philippine terrorists have been documented fighting with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Also, Arabs have been sighted in Mindanao recruiting and facilitating Filipinos transport to Syria and Iraq. Recently, a bomb making expert (Basit Usman) has resurfaced in Mindanao after previously being reported to have being killed by a drone attack in Afghanistan.
ISIS Supporters On The Move In The Philippines | International Terrorism Study Project
During all of this time, except for the seige and yesterday's bombing, there has been a news blackout on the happenings there. I am sad to here about all of this after having been associated with JSOTF-P from the very beginning in Jan 2002-2004 and again as a contractor from 2007-2011. I think that the realignment of the US forces to help deter China's aggression in the Spratley's and China Sea lanes is yet another failure of US Foreign Policy.
Did the US achieve all of their goals with JSOTF-P? I do not think so. If the situation reverts back to the way it was or worse than pre-2002 we will have our answer.
Let me further qualify my assessment. I also have travelled extensively throughout Mindanao (Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Misamis, CDO, Agusan Del Norte, Compostela, Bukidnon and Davao) without security in the past (2007-2011) and with security to Jolo, Basilan, Cotabato and Tawi Tawi. I feel extremely fortunate that I have been able to see and experience such a huge swath of Mindanao. It could be a true paradise if only the security situation was under control.