IT WAS said in a jovial tone, but the message rang loud and clear. When the Davao City Government first cranked up its efforts to bring peace to Paquibato District, what the people asked for outside basic government services was a cellphone signal.
“Is that your problem in Paquibato? You joined the New People’s Army because you do not have cellphone signal? Let me do this then: I will appeal to the telecom companies to put up their towers here so that signal will be boosted,” Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said in the vernacular during the first year anniversary celebration of Peace911, the city’s initiative to end the decades long insurgency problem in Paquibato District.
But a challenge came with that promise.
“Just remember, if you will allow these towers to be burned down by the rebels, I will give up the fight for peace,” she said in the vernacular.
The telecom companies acquiesced to the government’s request and set up their cellsites in Paquibato such that only the farthest and most remote barangay Tapak, of the 12 Paquibato barangays, remained unreached one year after.
Duterte-Carpio acknowledged, that normally telecom companies would only set up cellsites in areas where there is sustained commerce and security. Paquibato, a stronghold of the communist insurgents since the 1980s, did not fit the bill. There was poverty, there was conflict and gunbattles, there was no security. But she said, this is not just about commerce but about peace in an area forced into seclusion by communist rebellion for four decades.
“Mao nang gauge kung sunugon nang towera na, kung mitumba nang towera na, wala na’y pag-asa (For these towers to remain standing is the measure of peace on this land. When these towers are toppled by rebels, it’s a sign that achieving peace is hopeless),” she said.
The towers were set up and remain standing. The people can finally connect not just to friends and relatives, but to the markets, security and health services, and the world. Even their youths, organized under the Peace911 have set up their own social media account (Tara sa Paquibato) telling the story of peace in Paquibato, the places worth visiting, the people, and their achievements and programs, and in telling their stories, they find that the peace they were deprived for four decades is indeed worth fighting for.
“Thus, when Atty. Eliza Lapina said there is already signal and the towers are up, I knew we did something right in our struggle for peace,” she said. “I don’t know where the right actions started, but I am sure that we are now one and we now fully understand that there is a lot of work to be done in achieving this peace.”
In a connected world, the one who is left out is also left out in the whole scheme of things. The one left out has to fend for themselves becoming easy prey to those who thrive in the misfortunes of the masses. This wasn’t just about having cellphone signal, it was about being connected and having access to communication and services that came with the responsibility to ensure that those of ill intent are not allowed to prosper. It was the community coming together to say (and finally be heard) that: We are for peace.