New homes, hopes for evacuees in Maguindanao, North Cotabato

COTABATO CITY — It will take at least one generation to build peace in the Philippines, the presidential peace adviser said at the launch of a peace and development program aptly called Pamana, or legacy.

The program, launched formally at the Office of the Regional Governor in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, aims to give families affected by fighting between the military and insurgents, access to government services, including their own homes.

The program was launched with the turnover of core shelters to evacuee families in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) Teresita Quintos-Deles explained that the program had to start by getting families out of evacuation centers. She said that unless displaced families move into their own settlements, there would be no real development.

Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman, who was also at the launch, said the government has to do more than just provide houses. She said it must also work to raise the quality of life in the settlements.

Her department is one of the implementing agencies of the Pamana program and was in charge of a housing project in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato.

The first of those houses were turned over to families Friday. Sulay Mantawil, project foreman and an evacuee himself, said families who have had to live under tarpaulins since they were displaced by fighting in 2008 were the first to be given houses.

The government will also be providing livelihood training programs to teach the resettled families how to raise cattle, goats, and fish.

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), meanwhile, is offering classes on water hyacinth weaving.

A Tesda representative in Cotabato City told Sun.Star that aside from teaching residents how to make bags and baskets out of water hyacinths, they will also teach basic marketing.

The Trade department will then help resettled families find buyers for their products, they said.

Tesda also offers car maintenance, welding, electrical installation, consumer electronics servicing, and machining classes to give the evacuees a better chance of employment in larger cities or abroad.

In a country where finding work abroad is common — young women at Libungan Torreta, Pigcawayan who were not refugees told Sun.Star they all planned to go abroad after high school — the Tesda training could give displaced families a leg up.

This will be a better legacy than what children who grew up in evacuation centers — at least 2,000 families lost their homes in North Cotabato in 2008– currently have.

Kids in a Pamana shelter in Maguindanao

Even those who stay in their village will have a place to fish and farm, and in coming years, more farm-to-market roads to cut on transport costs.

The Pamana project is not confined to just Central Mindanao, Deles said.

There are parallel projects in Cordillera, in nothern Luzon, where the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army has agreed to become the government’s partner in development.

Deles said there is also a Pamana project in the Visayas and that they are already talking with the Revolutionary Proletariat Army, a breakaway group from the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army.

The RPA has asked to be relocated, she said, to avoid conflict with the CPP-NPA.

She said the Pamana project will be launched in seven conflict zones across the country.

Zamboanga and Sibugay, which has been affected by conflict with the MILF, NPA, and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), will have a Pamana program, as will Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi.

Opapp will also launch the program in Compostela Valley and Caraga, as well as in Samar, Bicol, Quezon, and Mindoro. Those areas have been hit by government clashes with the CPP-NPA.

Each project will be different, a Pamana briefing document said, and will be “tailored to the specific needs of the areas.”

Peace in our time?

Things have changed in Central Mindanao since 2008, Lieutenant Melvin Catindig of the 6th Infantry Division, who led our military escort in Pigcawayan, said.

He said the military has been winning back the trust of residents through relief operations and providing manpower for government projects.

He said the bulk of the military’s activities in the region have been civil-military operations. In contrast, the military had an “all-out” war policy in 2000, displacing around 985,000 from their homes.

“Children wave at our trucks when we pass by now,” he said.

However, this did not stop him from offering to escort this Sun.Star reporter out of Pigcawayan when interviews dragged on until late afternoon.

Our escort from the 6th Infantry Division

On Saturday morning, the 6ID reported a firefight in Talayan, between the government and four men with high-caliber weapons. Sun.Star could not verify with 6ID whether there were any casualties.

But Deles said the government is determined to end all armed conflicts in the country before President Benigno Aquino III steps down in 2016.

Opapp is currently in talks with the MILF, CPP-NPA-NDF, the RPA, and the MNLF.

She said the President does not want to saddle the next administration with a peace and order problem.

“It stops with us,” Deles said.

(Originally a story filed for Sunstar.com.ph)

One response to “New homes, hopes for evacuees in Maguindanao, North Cotabato

  1. Pingback: I have feelings! « Mister de Santos·

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