Village in Carmen shows way to peaceful coexistence

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/19 January) – In contrast to the reported hostility between the indigenous peoples and the Moros in Kabacan town in North Cotabato, peaceful coexistence marks the relationship between the Aromanon Manuvus and their Maguindanao and Ilocano neighbors in a barangay in Carmen, North Cotabato.

Instead of firearms, the Lumads, Moros and the settlers in Sitio Kibales in Barangay Cadiis, a remote village in Carmen, bring farm tools to their communal farms every day.

The villagers started their initiative in July last year when they organized the Tri-People Parents Organization (TPPO), a group of parents of the young Manuvus, Maguindanaons, and Ilocanos from the barangay who underwent alternative learning given by a Cotabato City-based Community Family Services International (CFSI), a non-government organization (NGO).

For three months since July, about 31 heads of families together with their children, built the 750- sq. m. fishpond through the food-for-work project of the World Food Program (WFP) of the United Nations.

At the time the pond was completed, in September, the WFP has distributed about 92 bags of rice to the project beneficiaries.

While the men built the pond, the women planted pechay, radish, onions, eggplants and other vegetables in a two-hectare lot donated by the Tumbagas who are Aromanon-Manuvus.

Lucia Tumbaga, TPPO president, said that after harvest time, they would bring the vegetables to their homes for their weeklong consumption. “The surplus is sold in the market and the income is equally distributed to the members of the group. We’ve been doing this since we started to build this bio-intensive garden in our village,” she said.

Before the month ends, the group expects a bountiful harvest of their tilapias from their pond.

Former war zone

Barangay Cadiis was once a war zone.

It also became a rebel base due to its proximity to Barangay Nanga-an in Kabacan, which is now the site of the recent fighting between Moros and Lumads.

Barangay Nangaan is being claimed by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as its headquarters. The Lumads, however, continue to assert their right over the land which they said is part of their ancestral domain.

Nangaan in Kabacan and Cadiis in Carmen are separated by the Pulangi River or the Rio Grande de Mindanao.

“Before, we would see rebels in full battle gear walk through our fields. They would stay in the area for days or sometimes for weeks. Their presence caused so much fear in us,” said Violeta Engkil, half-Maguindanaon and half-Ilocano.

Peaceful co-existence

The residents of Barangay Cadiis no longer want to live in fear. “We’ve had enough,” Engkil stressed.

They realized that they can actually co-exist with peoples of different faiths and cultures.

“When I joined the group last year, it was the first time I got to know the people here. Before, I was afraid to mingle with them because I thought they were warriors or members of the rebel groups,” said Engkil.

The experiences of Barangay Cadiis have somehow inspired NGO workers and other funding institutions in North Cotabato, including the provincial government, to continue supporting the people’s initiatives to end hunger.

“It’s heartwarming to see people use their newly acquired skills to build on what they already have like soil, water, and sunshine, and to make sure they don’t go hungry,” said Aveen Acuna-Gulo, a WFP officer.

Acuna-Gulo, together with Meriam Salbo from the Project Management Office of the Cotabato provincial government, visited Barangay Cadiis on Tuesday to see the impact of the WFP assistance to poor communities. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)