Agrarian Farmers in Basilan Unite for Peace, Growth

But for a consortium of the biggest rubber producers and processors here, armed conflict is seen as something of a challenge and a responsibility that everyone and every sector in the community should participate to overcome.

“It all boils down if peoples’ rights were not fulfilled—economically, spiritually, and morally. Putting our resources where our mouth is, I think that’s the best idea to start the way in achieving peace,” said Domingo M. Narsico, the plant manager of the biggest rubber producer in this province. Narciso convened a group of rubber planters not only to improve the industry but also as an approach to effectively address the province’s “unpeaceful” situation.

He said the group, composed of large rubber-based agrarian reform beneficiaries, has bonded themselves to “work towards the attainment of peace, justice and total human development.”
“Attaining a peaceful environment is not only favorable for our industry but also part to bring back the good name of the province,” he told PeaceWorks. He referred to its tainted image as a result of the decades-old armed conflict and being the birthplace of the country’s most notorious terrorist group – the Abu-Sayyaf.

The local rubber industry, who once thriving in this province in 1950’s from investments of American companies, deteriorated from the cycle of hostilities in the last three decades.
Rubber processing plants were left to rust and thousands of hectares once teeming with rows of rubber trees were abandoned.

“Being a stakeholder here, it’s something we want to change and move forward to give our children better days ahead,” said Emerson B. Ungan, who is partly making a living as a jeepney driver and a rubber farmer in an informal talk with PeaceWorks downtown in this city.

The rubber sector industry here currently injects roughly P234-million annually in the local economy. With the high demand for rubber-based products globally, the rubber sector here is bend to produce at least 4, 800 metric tons of rubber by 2015, which is valued to billions of pesos.

Narsico said the consortium, which is now running for more than a year, has been engaging in community livelihood programs by tapping residents to work in their respective rubber plantations.

He said the consortium will work on the welfare of the agrarian reform beneficiaries in the island province, which is numbering to more than 7,000.

“This program shall focus on the dealing with issues affecting the peace and development concerns of the member-agrarian reform communities and the province as a whole by institutionalizing peace efforts under various activities,” their written covenant stressed.

But not only the cooperatives here are inclined in bringing peace to this troubled province, other local business chambers here have also expressed a desire to take an active role in peace works too, through “corporate social responsibility.”

“For years, the business sector has been aloof here. But with the concept of the tri-sectoral (business, civil societies, and local government unit), we have learned that in business, making a profit is not just the main and only concern. Social equity investment is the key idea here,” said Jaime J. A. Rivera, secretary general and executive director of the Basilan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc.

He said to achieve good governance it is important that the three sectors recognize their common principles, particularly to increase accountability.

“Since these three sectors have the power with a wide reach and influence, it is best to work together in bringing peace, justice, and development in this province,” he added.
At the recent this year’s Zamboanga Peninsula Business Conference that was held during the week-long celebration of this city’s “Cocowayan Festival,” local business leaders here were urged by civil societies to engage in community work to help the almost 400,000 inhabitants in this island.

The problem on armed conflict coupled with political conflict is just but part of the bigger challenge the province is facing. The deteriorating health facilities, lack of educational services, and the high rate of poverty incident, Miriam L. Suacito, executive director of the Basilan-based Nagdilaab Foundation Inc., a non-governmental organization.

Suacito, who was one of the confab’s resource persons, said a collective effort between the business sectors, civil societies, and the local government leaders, would create much impact in the development of the province.

Currently, the province has only six functional hospitals with less than 200 beds. Worst the province has only five doctors to provide the medical needs of the 400,000 residents here, a data from the provincial office showed.

The deficient services of education here, reflects on the literacy rate of the province. Of the household population 10 years old and over, only 72.23% are literate. Literacy rate for males was 74.06% while females 70.42%, the provincial government data showed.

These factors all added to the poverty incidence of the province. Local figures show that 89% of the total 225 barangays indicate a high incidence of poverty. Provincial poverty incidence is at 47.7% which rank 28 of the poorest provinces in the country.

City mayor Cherrylyn S. Akbar said her administration is working with the provincial government to come up with the Local Economic Development Plan “to put things on the right direction.”

“Coming up with that economic plan requires the expertise of the business sector and the civil societies,” she said in an interview.

She said the local government is working to increase the employment rate from 82%-90% by end of 2010.

“There is so much to be done in this province,” said Rivera, adding that “the business sector is now more ready to embark on this of new venture.”

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