Wayward and Fanciful: Foreboding

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/9 Aug) – Communities that lie in rebel transit areas put residents there at risk of violence and atrocities in the hands of lawless elements who might demand to be provided food and shelter while passing through or use them as human shields to slow down pursuing law enforcers. Such had been in the recurrent experiences of some unfortunate villages in Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte and Aleosan, North Cotabato since the 1970s.

Republic Act 10121 (Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010) was approved on 27 May 2010, mandating that all government units down to the local level, together with partner stakeholders, shall develop, promote and implement a comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) plan to enhance disaster preparedness and response capabilities. The implementation of this law is underway this year, although not at a uniform pace for local government units in Mindanao.

To save lives and prevent human sufferings, at-risk communities have learned from experience that the most prudent way would be to heed signs of impending disaster and to move away from it in an organized and systematic way. Recognizing their vulnerability to threat to life and human sufferings that could come with the transit of primed and purposeful armed groups, some communities in Kolambugan and Aleosan have put in place early warning, early response mechanisms to brewing armed conflict situations, following the template provided by RA 10121.

Barangay San Roque in Kolambugan partnered with Ecoweb to set up a comprehensive DRRM plan that would give residents time to prepare, gather, and evacuate before the threat descents. Sitios have been organized into clusters, with point persons assigned, signaling relays established, and transportation arrangements mapped out. Cluster assembly areas and main evacuation centers have been identified. Tasking and composition of committees have been spelled out. With the support of the provincial government, community residents were also capacitated for basic life support skills. Efforts are being made to link the signaling relay of the Barangay San Roque with its contiguous villages.

In Aleosan, the Balay Rehabilitation Center, Inc. is assisting the conflict-vulnerable barangays of Dualing, Dungguan, and Bagolibas to set up localized DRRM plans. With its bias for encouraging self-help strategies and greater social participation of women in community processes, Balay provides advice on the crafting of appropriate ordinances, the composition of DRRM committees, and the rationalization of barangay calamity fund utilization in preparation for untoward events that might revisit the area.

After their bitter experience of the August 2008 debacle over the non-signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, many families that had fled these villages had opted to live somewhere else. Today, however, the security situation in these local communities seems to be turning brighter. The untiring clamor of the residents for the strategic location of a Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) detachment in their respective villages has finally been heeded. The people drew mostly from their own personal resources to build the detachments. With the perception of improved safety and security, people are returning to these villages to set up permanent residence again. They actively take part in preparing the respective DRRM plans in their barangays.

However, on the 5th year anniversary of the MOA-AD debacle, a fresh wave of seemingly orchestrated violent expressions in Cotabato, Maguindanao, and Marawi underlines the need to prepare conflict-vulnerable communities for systematic and speedy evacuations out of the line of crossfire. Apparently, we do not have the luxury of time.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Gail heads the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services at the Ateneo de Davao University, where she is also the editor of the university’s journal, Tambara. For comments, email her at gail@mindanews.com.)