CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—In the dirt and dust whipped up by motocross bikes racing to the finish line, tourism officials in Northern Mindanao would like to think that fear of martial law in Mindanao could disappear, too.
Last month, Lanao del Norte province hosted the final legs of “Lanorteman 2018,” a triathlon competition, and the Mindanao-wide Motocross Series.
On that same weekend, neighboring Bukidnon province became the venue of the Philippine Tough Truck Challenge XVIII (PTTC), organized by the National Association of Filipino Off-Roaders (Nasfor). Professionals and enthusiasts from all over the country, and a foreign team, participated in the event.
The huge turnout of crowds in these extreme sports indicates that the region, as well as the whole of Mindanao, has welcomed its fair share of tourists despite the Duterte administration’s imposition of martial law and the perceived unstable peace and order situation, according to Maria Celeste Andres, regional special project operations officer of the Department of Tourism (DOT).
Martial law was first declared on May 23, 2017, when fighting between government forces and Islamic State-linked armed groups began in Marawi City. The city was declared liberated from extremists five months later, on Oct. 17, 2017.
On Dec. 12 last year, the Senate and the House of Representatives approved the extension of martial law upon the President’s request until the end of this year.
“Still, people are coming in,” Andres said, noting that visitors had witnessed the situation and could visit places and watch events without fear.
The holding of sporting events is a “good indication that it’s really safe and we have this kind of activities,” she said.
The DOT launched sports tourism, along with other tourism packages, in June last year as a way of debunking the notion that Mindanao had become an unsafe destination due to violence attributed to rebels and extremists.
In Lanao del Norte, the Lanorteman and the motocross tournaments are regular sporting events. As it has been hosting races in the past years, usually at Barangay Sagadan in Tubod town, the province has been considered the “motocross capital of the Philippines.”
Hundreds of extreme bikers in the country, including the popular Visayas Riders, entertained the crowd with their death-defying stunts during the Supercross on Dec. 8 and Motocross on Dec. 9, according to the provincial information office.
More than 300 triathletes from other regions joined the Lanorteman on Dec. 9, including elite racers from the Philippine triathlon team and Rider Omega Tri of Cebu.
The PTTC has made a comeback in Northern Mindanao after several legs were held in other parts of the country.
Ramon Toong, Nasfor president, said the group chose to hold the final leg of the 2018 racing season in Bukidnon because of its natural terrain. The racing site consisted of two tracks, complete with obstacles such as trenches, mud pit and tabletop, he said.
It was also the first time that a foreign team competed. Seasoned off-roaders Cu Xi Chang, a three-time Rainforest Challenge Malaysia champion, and 2018 Borneo Safari first runner-up Yap Soon King were with the Malaysian team, which received the PTTC XVIII Team Spirit Award.
Toong said a racing circuit and off-road parks were being planned in other parts of the country.
“This is at par with our desire to establish permanent racetracks in strategic locations which we feel will not only help out racing events but will also draw attention to the locality and bolster a potential for local sports tourism,” Toong said in a message.
The plan is still on the drawing board, though, as issues with the Land Transportation Office on vehicle modification are still being ironed out.
“That’s an old rule. You can’t stop people from modifying [their vehicle],” he said, adding that off-road racing lacked government support and promotion as compared to other motor sports.
Off-roaders are also active in helping relief missions and in responding to disasters, Toong said.
“This is one area where we can excel,” he said.