Peace stories from a former stronghold of rebels

THE youths wanted it, I was told when sought out to train select Sangguniang Kabataan leaders of Paquibato District in Davao City on the basics of blogging last March 2-3, 2019 as part of the capacity-building components of Davao City Peace 911, the city’s peace initiative to counter insurgency.

“Do they even have signal there?” I asked.

There are in certain places, I was told. As anticipated, signal was weak at the 16th Infantry Battalion headquarters in barangay Dalisay, Panabo City where the workshop was held. It’s stronger at the barangay center of Paradise Embac, the participants said.

Paquibato, erstwhile bailiwick of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) since the 1980s, is a remote borderland. Barangay Paquibato Proper can be accessed through Panabo or Sto. Tomas both in Davao del Norte. Barangay Paradise Embac is reached through Panabo City. Barangay Mabuhay and environs can be reached through Carmen, Davao del Norte, while barangays Pandaitan, Colosas, and Tapak is accessed through Sto. Tomas also in Davao del Norte. Malabog, another major barangay, is reached through Calinan District, while others can be accessed through Bunawan District.

That cellphone signal was weak did not dampen the youth leaders’ enthusiasm because cellsite towers were already being built in their hinterland barangays along with concrete roads and bridges, where once there were but muddy roads, river crossings, isolation, and gun battles.

At the workshop, they were quick in realizing that Paquibato has hosts of stories to tell, from their waterfalls, clear streams, and rivers, to rolling hills and mountains, their people’s achievements, and the ways of their indigenous tribe – the Ata Manobo. The 3C’s they call it: Colors, Culture, and Company (people). Four decades of stories untold poured out.

Ten days after the training workshop, the youths launched the “Tara sa Paquibato” Facebook account, after deciding that Facebook is easier to administer than a real blogsite in Wordpress. Paired with a basic videography workshop by Davao City Peace 911’s RJay Sta. Teresa, they posted stories, photos, and videos of the beauty of Paquibato.

This was the first time most Dabawenyos saw these treasures having been held in seclusion by communist insurgency. No outsider dared visit Paquibato before 2018 for fear of being caught in a crossfire between government and rebel forces, be subject to random checkpoints by rebels, or abducted.

Now, the youths are flushed with the positive responses they have been getting since posting good news about Paquibato.

“Kaayo mam, kay daghan jud naga-message sa amoang page how to go there, unsa mga sakyanan, makita nimo ma’am na ang tao outside wala nay hesitation sa among lugar... nagapasalamaton kaayo me, ma’am, kani pud na way, even ang mga taga-Paquibato makahibalo nga naa diay ing ani sa Paquibato kay me, myself ma’am, blind pud nga naa diay ing-ani na mashowcase ang Paquibato (Our social media presence is helping us a lot. We have been getting inquiries on how to reach these places, we can feel that people are no longer afraid to visit our district. We are also very thankful because even among us who live in Paquibato, we did not know that there are so many things we can showcase),” Paradise Embac SK chair and Paquibato District SK coordinator Direca Fe G. Moreno told Sun.Star last June 25, 2019. Moreno is the administrator of the FB account.

The 13 SK chairpersons of the 13 barangays in Paquibato District are contributing to the account. They are Remran D. Onsad of Tapak, Mariel V. Monta of Sumimao, Jerick A. Adang of Salapawan, Mark Daniel S. Lanoy of Paquibato Proper, Rica B. Gelicame of Pandaitan, Mary Joy S. Pojas of Panalum, Jonathan L. Anglingcao of Mapula, Elbie Love M. Salutillo of Malabog, Baby Jane Nasole of Mabuhay, Rey Name D. Bagayo of Lumida, Cheng Carnece Dandoy of Fatima, and Phil Francis A. Cabizares of Colosas.

By going online with their stories, they were able to share these to the outside world along with all Paquibato residents who for four long decades were isolated in their villages because of security concerns.

“We realized we are not the only ones who long for peace and for the public’s negative perception of Paquibato to change. The residents of Paquibato themselves is longing for our district to be known as a place of peace,” she said in the vernacular.

It’s been three months now since Tara sa Paquibato was activated and more and more stories are being told and shared.

“Everytime something good happens in Paquibato, residents automatically tag Tara sa Paquibato in their good news posts,” Moreno said.

Irene M. Santiago, the City Mayor’s Peace Adviser, said that free flow of information is one of the pillars of positive peace – the peace model they are applying for Davao City Peace 911. It is important that people get the right information and platforms like Facebook that is properly managed can facilitate this.

“It’s like democracy, there is an open space for ideas and people can put out their own information and views, then they are able to get what is right. Hindi kasi pwede na receive ng receive ka lang, yun pala fake news na,” Santiago said last June 26. Facebook, being an open platform where people can contribute fits right in this pillar, she said. The challenge is for the administrators to be able to discern and make sure that the information they are posting or reacting to are verified and true.

When cellphone signal ranked high among the priorities of the residents during initial consultations for Davao City Peace 911 by Davao City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio, the people were thinking of just being able to contact each other and the people outside Paquibato for easier communication and livelihood undertakings.

But the granting of their request came with a challenge: that the people will ensure that these cellsite towers will not be burned nor toppled by the communist rebels. Peace 911 is Davao City’s local initiative to wrest Paquibato from the clutches of communist rebels while ensuring that other hinterland barangays do not become new rebel strongholds by putting in place a functioning government that is low in corruption and high in service. Peace 911 is founded on the eight pillars of positive peace, namely: 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.

“For these towers to remain standing is the measure of peace on this land. Once these towers are toppled by rebels, it’s a sign that achieving peace is hopeless,” Duterte-Carpio said in her speech during the first anniversary of Peace 911 held in Malabog last May 23, 2019.

While indeed asking for cellphone signal sounded outrageous when it landed among the priority needs of the residents during consultations on what the people need to bring peace to Paquibato, their experience shows that indeed, free flow of information is a pillar of positive peace.

“They (the people of Paquibato) were very thankful, ma’am, because in this way we are able to promote Paquibato especially in opening new economic opportunities as the public is now seeing the potentials for ecotourism and agritourism,” Moreno said.


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