Village folk in Shariff Saydona enjoy newfound peace

SHARIFF SAYDONA, Maguindanao (MindaNews/24 September) — For the Moro folk in the villages of Kuloy and Lapok of Datu Shariff Saydona town in Maguindanao, they can now welcome the coming of the harvest season with a smile. The reason: they can harvest their crops in relative peace as skirmishes between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the state-backed private army of the powerful Ampatuan clan have lessened, if not stopped.

The decline in violence has enabled the people, who used to be “bakwits” (internally displaced persons or IDPs), to till their lands once more and has made it easier for donor country initiatives to reach their impoverished and neglected villages.

In a visit to the areas this week, Mindanews observed that the residents were trying to lead normal lives again.

Shanties that were either bombed or burned have been rebuilt.

In the past, journalists found it hard to cover these areas owing to security reasons. There were frequent clashes between former governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.’s private army and the MILF.

Traces of war were still visible though. In one corner stood a house with its walls partially destroyed, its ceilings burned.

“A plane bombed this area. We’re just lucky that we left then or else,” the owner said.

Their mosque was riddled with shrapnel and bullets while a cooperative warehouse was totally gutted.

With the shaky peace talks between the government and the MILF holding, residents have found time to tend their farms. Children could be seen going to school while others enjoyed playing “jolen” (marbles) amid the disturbing presence of adult rebels carrying high powered firearms while roaming around.

The donor organization World Food Program (WFP) was able to enter these areas only in February this year.

WFP introduced a food for work scheme for the construction of flood control projects spanning 22 kilometers like multi-purpose dike and drainage canals which are now underway, and Farmers Field Schools on rice planting, organic farming and vegetable production.

“We have a lot of hope for the livelihoods to be re-established. We need to work with the government together. The people needs the seeds, farm tools, and they need the money so that everything can be realized”, WFP deputy country director Asaka Nyangara said.

Rice farming here noticeably lags behind compared to those highly productive nearby towns despite its water resources.

There is lack of knowledge in the systematic planting of rice. The farmers would simply scatter the seeds and apply no weed and pest management.

Fortunately, the irrigation canal from Kabulnan dam that had not reached them before is now accessible.

WFP also introduced the food-for-work scheme in nearby Datu Saudi Ampatuan town and harvest was doubled. Farmers harvested 4.2 metric tons from the two metric tons that the agency distributed to them and which they planted in 191 hectares.

“This is a positive development, it shows we can leave this people standing on their own feet now,” said Mike Argonza, WFP national program officer.

Farmers were glad too that they would no longer be forced to give three sacks of rice for every hectare planted to members of the Civilian Volunteers Organization, who were part of the Ampatuan family’s private army.

“We could do nothing when CVOs came to us or when we travel to sell our harvests,” said farm leader Kusain Abas. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)