We were in Sariaya, Quezon Province in Philippines yesterday. Quezon Province is about three hours drive from Manila. We were visiting a few gravel mines as well as a few gravel crushing facilities. More a fact finding mission as to whether the ones that we have could have been done better plus other things. Sariaya was a beautiful place.
I was quite surprised to find that we had armed policemen with M-16s accompanying us when we arrived. I thought the few that I saw were the only ones but when we visited the quarries and the facilities, all of them further inside forests a few miles off the beaten track, there were army people everywhere. We even saw a tank. Everyone was serious. On the way there too, there were many checkpoints. I thought the checkpoints were for traffic safety but I did not realise they were also manned by the police milita until latter in the day.
We even took photographs with the armed police. At the end of the visits, we asked for the list of security personnel, thinking that we could sort of compensate them for looking after us. We got a list of almost 50 names. I thought at first that was a bit too many for looking after a Deputy Minister, a PS, the Brunei Charge'd and a few senior officials. Anyway, the DM's PA sorted things out.
In the car, on the way back, my driver was telling me about the area being a little bit unsafe. Talk about an understatement. I asked him further and he told me about how Quezon Province and even in particular Sariaya used to be a Communist New People's Army stronghold and that even up to now, there would still be clashes now and then. I checked on the internet news just now and even today apparently there was a clash with an NPA rebel being killed by government forces. In fact over the last few months, there have been a number of clashes including in August where the rebels attacked a Quezon town police station and seize all the firearms there.
Maybe 50 people to look after us suddenly sounded such a small number. We were really lucky nothing happened in our area and we were really miles inside in the forests away from the normal roads and traffic. We did ask how safe the whole place was before we left and we were assued that there is nothing to worry about. I guess we did not know the extent of the seriousness of the whole place. I really missed the peacefulness in Brunei and just how lucky we are to be living there. Lessons for the future.