Women weave way to peace
SEVENTY women are actively taking part in rebuilding villages caught in the armed conflict in Maguindanao in 2008 to become fruitful “return areas” that cluster as a peace zone.
Kasidja Felmin, 45, is among dozens of women engaged in rope-making in the villages Pagatin and Sambolawan in Datu Salibo town, and Dapiawan in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town.
She earns P75 weekly from selling coils of rope in villages where vegetables easily grow and fish are freely caught, and she now helps her husband send their children to school.
For raw materials, officials said the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has allocated 6,500 empty sacks to Barangay Madia in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, and 20,000 sacks to Pagatin and Sambolawan in Datu Salibo, and Dapiawan.
<strong>Men till in rice farm</strong>
The menfolk are working on a 191-hectare rice farm which, like the women’s livelihood program, is supported by one of five United Nations-humanitarian aid organizations.
Officials said the UN World Food Program and the agriculture department of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are assisting the male residents as beneficiaries of free seeds for planting and staple food supplies for their families.
Forty-six villages in the three municipalities and other towns comprise the “return areas” for families displaced by wars between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces from July to December in 2008.
The fighting ensued after the government withdrew from signing a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain with the MILF in Malaysia, minutes after then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo delivered her State of the Nation Address at Congress’ opening that year.
Around 300,000 people or close to 60,000 families had sought refuge in town centers in Maguindanao from clashes instigated by the group of Ameril Ombra Kato and an earlier series of offensives in North Cotabato. (Kato recently declared a breakaway from the MILF.)
Last year, the number of “internally displaced persons” (IDPs) went down to 19,000 families, and now, only 2,400 families have not gone back to their places of origin.
The military has turned around from an image of being the principal force of war to peace initiator, declaring the return areas as a “zone of peace” in collaboration with local government units (LGUs) and peace groups, according to Brig. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, deputy commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
Muslima Abdullah, 17, a mother of two, is also among the beneficiaries of the long-term rehabilitation program being carried out by the ARMM in collaboration with the UN aid groups, LGUs, the Mindanao Tulong Bakwet Inc. and other civil society organizations.
ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo said the regional government has distributed 200 units of farm tractors with mechanized implements to the barangays, aside from the 46 units given by the International Committee on the Red Cross.
Early this week, UN officials visited one of the return areas in Barangay Pagatin in Datu Salibo. They would not disclose how much the entire humanitarian assistance program was costing the UN groups.
Ambassador Jorge Eduardo Chen Charpentier, head of the UN executive board delegation, said he was “impressed” by the collective delivery of services and long-term programs for the communities.
The board is composed of UN Development Program (UNDP), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Children’s Fund (Unicef), WFP and UN Office for Projects and Services (UNOPS).
“We are impressed. Based on records we received from our field offices, the trend so far is satisfactory—very impressive,” said Charpentier, who also represented the WFP.
Members of the humanitarian aid board were represented in the visit by Nadieska Navarro-Barro (Unicef), Noel Gonzales-Segura (UNDP), Jin Muchka (WFP), Magnus Lennartsson (UNFPA), Soo Gwon-Kim (Unicef), Moni Pizani (UNWomen), Erika Joergensen (WFP), Stephen Anderson (WFP) and Vanessa Tobin (Unicef).
They gave priority to 10 return areas where a growing number of families benefit from lumped UN aid programs. The Department of Social Welfare and Development in the region has estimated the total cost of the entire rehabilitation package at nearly P82 million.
Rehabilitation support, Sinarimbo said, is “slowly shifting the focus of aid intervention from mere food items to sources of food,” through a number of livelihood activities being supported under the ARMM’s IDP return program.
Sinarimbo said each family member was provided with a pabaon (provision) of P1,500 aside from basic household supplies, such as bedding, mosquito nets and rice.
In the return sites, the government has built small shelter units. In some instances, however, returning evacuees would just repair their half-burnt houses.
Families in the new shelters found the place too far from the farms they used to till, and this has taken them away from real source of income, said Abdulhamid Manisi, a volunteer teacher of the Save the Children Foundation.
Out of the total assistance package, the ARMM government has allotted P10 million for equity fund from its line agencies and the office of acting Gov. Ansaruddin Adiong, in the form of food and nonfood items and agriculture livelihood facilities.
The region’s Department of Education (DepEd) has 365 classrooms built from funds extended by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Construction was completed in February in support of the DepEd’s “Bakwet Brigada Eskwela” (Evacuees’ School Brigade) program in all five ARMM provinces, said Avecina Alonto, ARMM administrative chief of staff.