TUKANALIPAO, Mamasapano, Maguindanao (MindaNews /25 January) – The makeshift wooden footbridge still stands between the riverbanks but is no longer used by residents here as the central part is about to give way. A new steel and lumber bridge about a hundred meters away has been opened for safer and faster transport of goods and people.
Small tractors and carabao-drawn carts can now pass through the bridge to work the cornfields in Sitio Amilil and harvest the crops as 17-year old farmer Zaharimim Amilil did on Tuesday afternoon.
Rats, however, had beaten the farmers to the fields. “Failure,” Zaharimim told MindaNews while trying to collect what could be saved from their crops.
Zaharimin Amilil and his friends ride a hand tractor as they cross the newly-constructed bridge in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 19, 2016 to harvest their crops that were attacked by rats in the same area where most of the 44 members of the Special Action Force were killed. Seventeen members of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces and five civilians were also killed on January 25, 2015. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
A hectare would yield them 90 sacks on normal harvest or about P40,000 gross. Now, he estimates only 20 sacks.
Tukanalipao Kagawad Abulkadir Adam echoed Zaharimim’s woes early Monday morning, while waiting for visitors to arrive for the first anniversary rites of the tragedy that left 66 persons dead – 44 from the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (SAF-PNP), 17 from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and five civilians.
Barangay Tukanalipao councilor Abdulkadir Adam narrates the impact of the newly constructed bridge in his barangay in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province during an interview on January 25, 2016 . What used to take three days to transport his harvested corn to the market takes only a few minutes now. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
The 37-year old farmer and father of eight, plants corn on a two-hectare farm. But the corn he planted last month is “patay na” (already dead), no thanks to the dumpaw (rats) and the drought brought about by the El Nino phenomenon. Maguindanao is among the provinces currently suffering from drought.
The Department of Agriculturure in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) early this month reported that rats have destroyed close to P6 million worth of rice and corn crops in Maguindanao, in the towns of Mamasapano, Datu Unsay, Sultan Mastura, Datu Odin Sinsuat and Northern Kabuntalan.
Crop failure has been hounding the farmers of Tukanalipao since January 25 last year when their cornfields became a blood-drenched battlefield.
Here, all but one of the 36 members of the 55th SAC (Special Action Company) of the SAF breathed their last as the troops, supposedly tasked to reinforce the 84th Seaborne, the main team tasked to arrest high-value targets Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman, engaged in a dawn to dusk clash with elements of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), private armed groups and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
The SAF had launched the operations without coordinating with the military and the ceasefire mechanisms, contrary to the national policy of primacy of the peace process.
Then SAF director-general Getulio Napenas even admitted in the Senate Committee hearings that they classified the MILF, the revolutionary group that signed a peace agreement with the government on March 27, 2014, as “enemy”
The United States’ National Counterterrorism Center in its website said Zulkifli, 49, was an engineer trained in the United States, believed head of the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia (MM), allegedly a terror group, and a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command.
Marwan carried a USD 5 million bounty for his capture or 220 million pesos at the January 2015 exchange rate of 44 pesos to one US dollar while Basit Usman carried a million dollar (44 million pesos) bounty.
The Amilils suffered a 40,000 peso loss as they were not able to harvest the crops on time following the mass evacuation triggered by the firefight.
Abdulkadir managed to salvage only 35 sacks from what would have been 160 to 180 sacks from his two hectares, he said.
He claimed the next cropping season was destroyed by the floods. And the next, he managed to harvest only 65 sacks from the two-hectare lot because rat infestation had started by then.
With the corn planted in December already considered “patay na,” Abdulkadir relies on selling bananas. But the price of bananas in the village is only two pesos per kilo. He harvests about 30 bunches of about 15 kilos each every month, for a total earning of only 900 pesos.
The new bridge, Abdulkadir said, has really helped improve their quality of life as well as reduced harvest and shipment cost.
Before the new bridge, he said, it cost them 85 pesos to transport each sack across the river and into the highway – 30 pesos as harvester’s fee, 30 for the carabao-drawn cart, 10 pesos labor cost to transfer across the river via the footbridge, and 15 pesos from the footbridge to the highway.
In addition, they have to pay an additional 300 pesos at 100 pesos a day for the person who would guard the harvest near the wooden footbridge. It usually took three days to finish the transport across the footbridge, he said.
With the new bridge, this has been reduced to only 50 pesos – 30 pesos as harvester’s fee and 20 pesos transport to the highway – and it takes only a few minutes, not days, to complete the process from farm to marke.
That’s a huge savings, Abdulkadir says.
For now, however, there is no corn to harvest and transport across the new bridge. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)