Idyllic Siromon Island’s Folks, Ex-Fighters, Now Enjoying Inter-Agency Assistance

SIROMON Island, Zamboanga City – SOME 200 families in this island and two other neighboring islets are poised to receive more assistance as the Act for Peace Programme of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP-Act for Peace) led an interagency visit and needs assessment to the settlements last June 27.

James Alih T. Abdul, Act for Peace regional manager for Western Mindanao, said the visit is part of UNDP’s commitment to make sure that the needs of the residents, who are former fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) are being taken cared of.

“We have officials from different agencies of government who are here with us. We will be assessing the needs of the residents and we will see what help and assistance we can extend to the families here,” Abdul told PeaceWorks.

During the assessment visit to this once a upon a time no man’s land, no less than the regional office of the Presidential Management Staff pledged to help the community to acquire their own sari-sari store courtesy of “Tindahan Natin” program. Edith Cabatbat, PMS regional director, said she will work on and assist the community to coordinate with the regional Social Welfare and Development Office and National Food Authority (NFA) for this project.

The city and the regional offices of the Department of Agriculture oriented the residents on the proper registration and licensing procedures for their pumpboats. The employees of the agriculture office also lectured the residents of the do’s and don’ts in fishing. Fishing is the main livelihood of the families in this group of islets.

Other agencies that joined the caravan included the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), Western Mindanao State University, Department of Education – Alternative Learning System, Commission on Higher Education, PMS, NFA, National Commission on Indigenous People, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Mindanao Communicators Network, the City Government, and some media representatives, among others.

Eleven Islands, a group of islets situated in the eastern part of the city, is roughly an hour boat-ride from the city proper. This group of islands was known as a stronghold of the MNLF in the early 1970s up to the 90s and had often served as a major jump-off point for lawless groups and pirates. The violence triggered by those incidents led to total displacement and evacuation of the residents until the assistance of UNDP came in mid-2006.

UNDP-Act for Peace launched its assistance program here in July 2006 through a P4.5 million housing project, which built some 100 houses for Siromon and 50 others each for Lampinigan and Kabugan.

The Act for Peace Programme has also worked out to address other social needs of the community. Through partnership with other agencies, Siromon has now its P100,000-worth of community multi-purpose building and P500,000 worth health center, several small fishing boats, among other help.

Last summer, the Siromon youngsters and the not-so-young alike were taught on reading, writing and arithmetic, thanks to the Handog volunteers of WMSU. WMSU is also one of the partners of UNDP- Act for Peace.

With these developments happening in their midst, the residents are breathing easier these days, leaving behind years of insecurity, threats of poverty and violence.

“Now its better. We can eat and sleep very well now,” said community elder Hji. Jalil Sagumbayan, 78, as he welcomed the visitors.

“We are thankful to the Act for Peace for this opportunity and assistance,” he said.

“We promise to keep it more meaningful for us in our quest to bring back peace and development to these islands,” added the community chieftain Akbari Samsom, who himself was a former MNLF commander.

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