ARMM pouring P600M into town, site of troop killings
AL-BARKA, Basilan—The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is pouring P600 million into this town, where more than 250 government soldiers have died in attacks by and encounters with Abu Sayyaf bandits.
ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman said Al-Barka, the town most associated with banditry in Basilan province, was the recipient of a P600-million investment that would include road projects, ports, water systems and livelihood grants.
A huge chunk of the budget will go to road-concreting projects amounting to P400 million.
“We will ensure that all roads are connected,” Hataman said.
This means, he said, roads will now connect Al-Barka to the towns of Tipo-Tipo and Lamitan and the main highways leading to the village of Cambug, where top leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are keeping camps.
The rest of the funds will be spent on the construction of ports, water systems and livelihood programs, Hataman said.
Hadja Suada Asnawi, wife of Dan Asnawi, commander of the 114th Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces of the MILF in Basilan, said what the MILF communities needed were “working structures for health, water and education.”
“Our children have to travel down to Lamitan for education. Our people have to go far to fetch water in Tipo-Tipo, and we don’t have health facilities,” she said.
Hadija Hassan, a resident of Ginanta village, said they also needed jobs and livelihood projects.
“Once everyone is with steady income, they will never join the Abu Sayyaf group,” Hassan said.
“But how can we find work here? Who will invest here if bandits keep harassing the people?” he added.
Hataman said it was the first time that Al-Barka was getting this much funds.
Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez, deputy commander of the Western Mindanao Command and head of the military’s coordination committee on the cessation of hostilities, said the government had suffered setbacks in Al-Barka.
“Since 1997 to the end of 2012, there were more than 256 soldiers killed and 560 wounded,” he said, referring to casualties suffered by the government in fighting the Abu Sayyaf.
Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said the construction of highways linking Al-Barka to other towns was the “concrete path to peace and better lives for the people.”
Guerrero, a former brigade commander based in Basilan, admitted that “we have seen that the violent path is not a solution, military solution is not a solution, so we must exploit the opportunity of a peaceful option.” Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao
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