Solon distributes farm tools to push peace in conflict areas

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/19 Sept) – Rep. Jesus Sacdalan (North Cotabato, 1st Dist.) distributed last Saturday shovels and other farm tools to farmers in a village in Midsayap town, which was once ravaged by fighting between Moro rebels and government forces, in his attempt to push peace in his district.

Sacdalan, who is now chair of the Special Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity of the House of Representatives, started his “pala-pala” (shovel) program when he was still governor.

“These farm tools are best instruments in promoting peace in this troubled Mindanao. I have always believed that when there’s peace, there’s development in the community,” he said.

Barangay Nabalawag, dominated by Maguindanaon Moros situated some 11 kilometers away from the commercial center of Midsayap town in North Cotabato’s first legislative district, was site of intense fighting between in August 2008, when talks between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government bogged down following the botched signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

The village is in the boundary of Midsayap and Datu Piang in Maguindanao, where hundreds of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels were believed to have come from. Thousands of Maguindanaons, as well as Ilonggo and Ilocano settlers living nearby, fled to safer grounds to prevent being caught in the crossfire.

The Nabalawag Elementary School, located along the Midsayap-Datu Piang road, became site of the evacuation of thousands of displaced families.

Two years after the August 2008 war, Sacdalan and fellow Rep. Bai Sandra Sema (Maguindanao and Cotabato City), who is the vice chair in the same committee, went back to the area and introduced a new “peace agenda” to the villagers.

Aside from distribution of farm tools, the legislators from North Cotabato and Maguindanao, together with Undersecretary Luisito Montalbo of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), led the planting of mahogany and rubber trees and the repair of buildings at the Nabalawag Elementary School.

“This initiative may be simple, but we believe it has an impact on people’s lives … that instead of creating conflicts among residents, we’re actually bringing peace to them,” said Sacdalan.

He stressed that the armed conflict has caused so much suffering for civilians and worsened their experience of poverty.

The August 2008 war, according to reports from the National Disaster Coordinating Council, displaced 300,000 people, killed 71 and injured a hundred. (Malu Cadeliña Manar / MindaNews)