PEACE now prevails in Paquibato District, a hinterland district of Davao City, that has for decades been the stronghold of the New People’s Army (NPA). It was the area where the rebels ruled and barangay officials and indigenous leaders who sided with government risked losing their lives, executed by communist rebels.
As Malabog barangay captain Jessielito James Areja said, there have been four barangay officials in Paquibato. Sun.Star Davao could not immediately get the details of these although it is aware of such violence in the area through the decades, especially for leaders who assist the military.
Davao City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio, however, knows the peace being enjoyed a year after the local peace initiative, Peace 911, was rolled out is a fragile one. The old enemies are just waiting for an opportunity to strike, bring back fear, and rule over the people again.
“Dili ko gihapon mutuo, naa ra na sila dinha, pero sila tanan moingon wala na lagi, it is peaceful now (I still do not believe peace has been won. The rebels are just around, but everyone else is saying, the rebels have gone, it is peaceful now),” she said in her speech during the first anniversary celebration of Davao City Peace 911 in barangay Malabog, Paquibato District last May 25, 2019.
That is the reason why the government cannot afford to end the peace initiative. The destabilizers are waiting on the wings, ever eager to get back Paquibato, which they had under their control for over four decades.
Duterte-Carpio, in her speech, recalled how as a nine-year-old girl when her father now President Rodrigo R. Duterte became Davao City Mayor for the first time in 1988 she already heard of Paquibato as the bailiwick of the NPA.
“When I became mayor in 2010-2013, it was the same. There was no other phrase associated with Paquibato other than that is the territory of the NPA,” she said.
Her resolve to put an end to the rule of the NPA, however came in 2016, when she had just assumed mayorship and the NPA torched the Lapanday box plants in barangay Mandug, Davao City on April 29, 2017. In that atrocity, a fish vendor, Larry T. Buenafe, died. Buenafe had the misfortune to be driving by the box plant on his way to deliver fish to Tigatto on his motorcycle right at the moment when the rebels blew up a bomb. A shrapnel hit him.
Duterte-Carpio saw how Buenafe struggled to live and was even the one who called up Buenafe’s wife to inform her that her husband was in the hospital. Buenafe fell into a coma and died five days later.
“It is a sad day for Davao City. I am sorry we lost Larry, a victim of delusional people living in an alternate universe who are now celebrating their so-called victory against oppression. But it is a celebration that means nothing except grief for the true victims,” Duterte-Carpio said in a statement issued May 4, 2017.
The sharp words the mayor used is reflective of her resolve to put an end to the reign of the communist rebels.
She met Irene M. Santiago at the opening on September 14, 2017 of the MindanaOnce photo and art exhibit on peace put up by artist Rey Mudjahid P. Millan featuring photos of peaceful Marawi by former Peace Corps volunteer Fred Marinello taken between 1963-1965, four months after the Marawi siege broke out. The mayor acknowledged this exhibit as a key to the creation of Peace 911.
“I was agonizing over what to do when just like that, I was just attending an art exibit and there was Ma’am Irene Santiago, I saw the person who can start this. I said, Ma’am, can you help me because Paquibato-NPA has been Paquibato-NPA since 1987 when I was still nine or ten years old,” she said in the vernacular.
Incidentally, the exhibit ended on October 18, 2017. Five days later, on October 23, 2017, government declared Marawi as liberated from the Maute Gang five months after the siege broke out.
But even before the concept of Peace 911 that included negotiating with the rebels was able to take off, President Rodrigo R. Duterte came out with Proclamation No. 374 signed December 5, 2017, “declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (NPA) as designated/identified terrorist organization under RA 10168”.
“We cannot talk with terrorists because we will be labeled as terrorists, so I asked, what else can we do?” Duterte-Carpio said.
It was Santiago who suggested that the city government instead organize the Barangay Councils for Peace (BCP) along with Peace 911.
“Ayaw istoryahi ang NPA. Istoryaha ang mga tao. Pangutan-a sila unsa ang problema (Don’t talk to the NPA. Talk to the people and ask them what their problems are),” the mayor recalled Santiago’s advice. The BCPs are made up of the presidents of the women, youth, indigenous peoples, farmers, and faith-based groups in the community, and the barangay chair plus one other barangay council member.
It did not deliberately take in the whole barangay council because when Peace 911 started, corruption was up to the barangay council level. Low levels of corruption is required for a peace initiative to take off under the model of positive peace the program is founded on.
Duterte-Carpio also deliberately let Peace 911 run on its own without her leading it saying she is not the right person to be associated with peace initiatives.
“Dili ako ang correct na tao na makaistorya og kalinaw because palaaway kaayo ko. Kung mag-ingon ka og away, mag-una-una gyud na si Inday Sara didto. Ug way away maghimo og away (I am not the right person to speak for peace because I am quarrelsome. I will always be at the forefront of a fight, and when there’s no conflict, I will start one),” she said.
With Santiago named Peace Adviser and City Legal Officer Elisa Lapina appointed as head of the program, Peace 911 was launched in Paquibato, the rebels’ lair, a year after Buenafe’s death.
Following the Eight Pillars of Positive Peace model, Peace 911 is founded on: a well-functioning government, a sound business environment, an equitable distribution of resources, an acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbors, free flow of information, a high level of human capital, and low levels of corruption.
But before these pillars were forged, first addressed were the issues of hunger and fear.
This required the rebuilding of trust on security forces and the local leaders. It meant putting a stop to military abuses, improve relationship with the military, and stamping graft and corruption at the barangay level.
Santiago, Duterte-Carpio’s Peace Adviser, Atty. Lapina for her skills in coordinating, networking, and working with the masses and government agencies, hands on. Lapina’s role was key to sending out the message that the city government is serious about this program, Santiago said.
Lapina also gets credit for ensuring that Paquibato gets mobile phone service, which ranked high among the residents’ needs during consultations.
Fortunately, telecom giants Smart and Globe responded positively and quickly to the appeal of the mayor to put up their towers. There was a promise exacted from the residents, however, that the towers are protected from rebel attacks.
“Once the towers are burned, I will give up the fight for peace,” Duterte-Carpio recalled telling the people in one of the consultations.
On the hunger issue, womenfolk were taught container gardening that ensured they have food always for their family’s daily consumption and extra harvest for selling.
That brought in the military in full civic action and the expertise of urban container gardening advocate Perfecto “Jojo” Rom.
Why the women? Simply because a child doesn’t normally go to the father when hungry, Santiago explained.
After the security and hunger issues were addressed, the foundations for the eight pillars of positive peace were put into place by the BCPs, which saw the tight cooperation not just of the village people, but also the security forces. For a change, peace was won without a single shot fired.
Now that peace, albeit fragile, is experienced, the Davao City government rolls out Peace 911 Dos, which not only widens the area coverage of the peace initiative, but will also bring in sustainable and environment-friendly community livelihood undertakings.
From the original 13 barangays of Paquibato District (Colosas, Fatima, Lumiad, Mabuhay, Malabog, Mapula, Panialum, Pandaitan, Paquibato Proper, Paradise Embak, Salapawan, Licanan, and Tapak) and barangay Dominga of Calinan District because it is adjacent to Paquibato and is affected by the insurgency problem there, Peace 911 Dos will have 18 more barangays from the districts of Calinan, Marilog, Baguio, Tugbok, and Toril.
Santiago said it was the 3rd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, which drew up the list of possible new areas based on demographic profiles, poverty incidence, and risk of insurgency. The 3rd IB is the one covering these areas. Paquibato is covered by the 16th IB.
The work will have to continue, the mayor said.
“Naa man nay mga NPA dinha, naghulat-hulat ra na sila og weakness... Naghulat ra na sila og right timing. So kinahanglan kita, we stand together na dikit-dikit kanang wala gyud makalusot. Magtinabangay, magtambayayong ta sa pagsulbad sa problema (The NPA is just there waiting for a sign of weakness, for the opportune time. We have to stand as one tight community where no rebel can penetrate. Let us help each other, cooperate with each other in solving the problems),” Duterte-Carpio urged.