ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/18 January) — A special team has been created to run after absentee local government officials, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse M. Robredo announced during his visit to this city last week.
Robredo warned of harsher penalties, including suspension, for local officials who are frequently out or absent in their areas.
“It’s time for us to discipline our LGUs (local government units),” he told top officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) during the Galing Pook Awards on January 10.
He said there is a need for government presence in light of the recent rash of violence that has occurred particularly in the island provinces of Basilan and Sulu.
It has been noted that many officials, particularly those from the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Taw-Tawi maintain residences in Zamboanga City and other big cities in Mindanao.
Robredo said he has received several complaints against local government officials who fail to do their job since they are always out of their areas of responsibility.
“There is no denying that many LGUs in the ARMM still have to make major changes and be consistent with their efforts in order to alleviate their level of governance to universally accepted standards,” he said.
But even as Robredo was meeting with ARMM officials, five traders who were selling bed foams were ambushed and killed in Basilan.
At present, suspected members of the Abu-Sayyaf are still holding three kidnap victims, according to Col. Randolph G. Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom).
He said a joint peace and security coordinating committee composed of units from the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines and police has been formed to strengthen measures against criminality in the Western Mindanao areas.
“There is really a need for proper coordination between these units to effectively enforce the law,” Cabangbang said.
He said authorities have noted an increase in the number of “enterprising gangs” that are into kidnapping and extortion activities.
“These mafia-style groups opted to snatch average people for them to surely collect a ransom,” he said, referring to the different patterns that kidnap-for-ransom syndicates had resorted to in recent months.
For years now, kidnapping has plagued Western Mindanao where bandits have been seizing not only rich and prominent personalities but even common people.
Robredo said good local leadership is vital to ending the decades-old cycle of conflict and violence in these areas.
Meanwhile, civil society groups in Basilan have urged government security forces to disarm civilians who possess firearms to prevent further violence in the area.
Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said loose firearms pose a threat to the people.
“Again, I’m asking the military to really protect the civilians. And one way of doing that would be to really disarm the civilians carrying guns in the province,” he said in a statement published on the website of UCANEWS, a Catholic-sponsored news organization.
Jumoad has blamed the local government units and law enforcers for their failure to prevent kidnappings and murder of civilians.
Jaime J. A. Rivera, secretary general and executive director of the Basilan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. said that some civilians opted to carry firearms for protection.
“We understand the Bishop’s stand, but we believe that disarming civilians will not be an effective solution. So as long as rebels and their criminal proxies, as well as politicians, and private armies remain, then disarming of civilians will only take away the last defense of people against the lawless or the powerful and abusive,” he said.
Local violence has aggravated access to basic services in rural areas, sinking the people deeper into poverty that in turn breeds more violence, Rivera said
“This is the first time that we just feel like nobody’s doing anything to curb the criminality that’s just gone haywire since the last quarter of 2010. And the authorities just seem to be paralyzed from the brain down,” he said, referring to the spate of crimes in the area. (Wally Wee/MindaNews)