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Wednesday, August 15, 2012
“TIS the season to think out-of-the-box.” Or there’s more than one way to skin a cat or attain peace and development other than defeating the enemy.
Defeating the insurgency largely by military means has been a time-proven flop. So long as peasants are cut off from access to government development services, the New People’s Army and other rebel groups will find a reservoir of new young able-bodied peasants to join its ranks.
Back in 2007, the Asian Development Bank noted that highly urbanized areas in the Philippines have reduced poverty incidences by 15 percent, in contrast to a mere 5 percent in the rural areas.
Thus, to be a farmer is to be poor. And a hinterland peasant is to be a barely literate, extremely impoverished tiller of the soil. I call that poverty and denial of development services one of the worst form of social exclusion, a blatant institutional violation of economic and social human rights against hinterland peasant communities.
The peasants’ escape from extreme poverty is to migrate and congest the cities—or to join the revolutionary groups to wrest development resources through armed violence. And the State has to meet that with its own armed violence. Violence begets violence.
What can be the game-changer for the endless tango of violence from both sides? Obviously, to deliver to peasant communities equal access to the development pie.
This might have been a long-time coming, but as they say, better late than never. Negros Occidental has finally formulated a 5-year peace and development project for conflict-affected communities, which aims to sustain its peace building and development efforts.
Colonel Oscar Lactao, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, argues that the five-year plan is crucial to the resolution of over four decades of armed conflict in the province.
One of the first projects will be the institutionalization of the Provincial Peace Integration and Development Unit that will handle the demobilization, disarming and the integration of RPA-ABB members and former members of New People’s Army who chose to rejoin mainstream society.
The marching orders for winning the peace is anchored on the attainment of the “Negros First” program of Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., emphasizing the attainment of poverty reduction, economic development and food security, improved health care, access to basic education, balanced ecology and risk reduction, and good governance.
The peace and development project has five components, ranging from security, economic, environment, psycho-social and governance, and will focus on the 96 conflict-affected, largely hinterland, communities.
Lactao, who supervises the internal security operations in the province, said these approaches will not only address security and livelihood, but also caused healing and reconciliation toward a sustainable peace for Negros Occidental.
I have on occasion the opportunity to dialog with Colonel Lactao. I find him knowledgeable of development issues, which admittedly for a military officer I find quite surprising. He’s not the type who talks through his hat—or helmet.
He links rural poverty to the slow pace of agrarian reform in the province. Or the backwardness of the provincial economy because Negrenses insist on retaining its rural, farm-based economy, a sector of the economy unable to absorb armies of the unemployed, including those coming in from the cold.
Lactao bats for industrialization that has propelled former backward rural economies into industrial powerhouses such as Taiwan and South Korea.
Lactao hurries to add, sans the military dictatorship. The challenge for Negros is how to propel agricultural and industrial development under a democracy and a regime of peace.
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Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 15, 2012.