Local execs continue to push for dev’ts to stop terrorism
John Unson (Philstar.com) - April 12, 2016 - 1:27am

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Officials are convinced Abu Sayyaf extremists in Basilan will soon weaken due to the continuing compression of their enclaves as a result of the massive construction of roads in the island province.

Police officials in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Philippine Army sources on Tuesday said Saturday’s deadly Abu Sayyaf-military encounter in Baguindan in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan could be the group’s “last stand” in a once formidable guerilla enclave in the area now traversed by newly-built roads.

Raw video shots of the encounter showed several Army vehicles parked along a road near the scene of the skirmishes, in what was for authorities an indication that Abu Sayyaf lairs in Basilan are now accessible to Army combat vehicles and battle tanks.

President Benigno Aquino III and ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman led last month’s launching in Barangay Tumahubong in Sumisip of the P1 billion worth Basilan Transcenstral Road, to cut through forested hinterlands in the center of the island province, where the Abu Sayyaf built its first ever, but now abandoned hideout, the Camp Abduradjak.

“When there are concrete roads in far-flung areas, livelihood opportunities also spread around, generating employment for the poor people and once they have decent sources of income, they turn their backs from lawless groups giving them false hope and bad indoctrinations,” an Army general told The STAR on Tuesday.

Records from the office of engineer Don Loong, secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in ARMM, showed the Hataman administration, with Malacañang’s permission, allocated P9.35 billion worth of infrastructure grants for 265 projects, mostly arterial road networks, for Basilan from 2012 to 2016, something never done before by past presidents and ARMM governors.

The projects, some already completed while others are still being implemented by Basilan’s district engineer, Soler Undug, were designed to hasten the restoration of normalcy in conflict-devastated areas in support of the socio-economic agenda of Malacañang’s Southern Mindanao peace process.

Basilan covers 11 towns and all 45 barangays in Lamitan City, the provincial capital.

At least P7.66 billion worth of funds, from total allocations for Basilan in the past four years, had been earmarked for strategic infrastructures, such as bridges, concreting of old roads and construction of new ones, in support of the government’s agriculture, health, education and tourism thrusts in the province.

The amount is 81.91 percent of the P9.35 billion infrastructure grants poured into the province during the period by the Hataman administration.

“We have noticed a rise in enrolment during the two recent school years as a result of the connectivity now of remote barangays to schools,” said Hadja Nuriya Jamaldin, assistant superintendent of public schools in Basilan.

Loong said the Hataman administration had proposed a P16 billion budget for infrastructure projects in Basilan for 2017.

“Once all of these projects are implemented, people in the province would have economic stability in their midst and along economic growth comes peace and development and convenient life for all,” Loong said.

Local officials in Basilan said the Abu Sayyaf is opposed to the ARMM government’s infrastructure and socio-economic interventions for marginalized sectors for fear of losing control of the local communities, from where they mulct food and money from, if empowered.

“Their camp in Albarka fell two months ago, now secured by the military. Their last bastion in Tipo-Tipo had been breached too last Saturday. Their world is getting smaller,” said an elected official in Lamitan City.

The official was referring to the once impregnable Abu Sayyaf hideouts in the adjoining Albarka and Tipo-Tipo towns southwest of Basilan.

Loong said personnel of the DPWH-ARMM are just as certain the accomplished and ongoing infrastructure projects in Basilan will hasten the attainment of peace in the province.

“You cannot quell violence with violence. Only peace and development can quell violence. Only light can give us clarity in the darkness,” he said.

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