BRGY. GUPITAN, KAPALONG, DAVAO DEL NORTE—At first glance, the situation seemed tense as an “encounter” was about to occur.
On one side of the bridge were hundreds of Lumads holding bladed weapons and bearing strongly-worded placards urging local rebel forces to stop their illicit activities and let them live in peace.
At the other side were representatives of government led by Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus G. Dureza who came from Davao City to visit this remote, hinterland community.
But the encounter turned out to be a meeting of the minds and hearts, as both groups walked towards each other and shook hands in a symbolic gesture of peace, understanding and solidarity.
Sec. Dureza and local officials of Kapalong then lighted candles and recited a prayer before cutting the ceremonial ribbon to inaugurate the Patel Bridge, which was built under the Pamana at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program.
PAMANA is under the oversight of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). It is the national government’s convergence program that provides development assistance to isolated, hard-to-reach, conflict-affected communities across the country.
In his remarks, Sec. Dureza stressed the need to understand the reasons why some have decided to take up arms and are now waging a guerrilla war against the government.
He noted that these individuals are “angry at the national leadership” because they feel left out from the mainstream of development.
The peace adviser said this is why he wants to engage people in meaningful discussions and find out how their concerns can be best addressed.
“Dialogue is only half of the work of peace-building,” he said in the vernacular, adding that the “other half is carrying out programs” that would help uplift the lives of residents.
Sec. Dureza pointed out that the implementation of projects such as the Patel Bridge is a concrete manifestation of the government’s desire to make economic growth more inclusive by bringing development to the countryside.
Citing the “chicken and egg” analogy, he emphasized that peace and development should not come one after the other but instead “should come hand in hand.”
In the case of Kapalong, Sec. Dureza revealed that there a lot of prospective investors who are interested to do business in the area but are concerned over their safety.
He said that it is therefore the role of government to create an enabling environment where trade and investment can flourish.
“It is good to talk [about peace] but we also need to bring in investments,” Sec. Dureza said, as he introduced Board of Investments Governor Napoleon Concepcion who was part of his contingent.
According to the government’s top peace negotiator, a number of investors have already expressed interest in establishing palm oil and coffee plantations in the municipality.
Citing the “Datu Paglas experience,” Sec. Dureza said that it is very much possible to transform conflict-affected areas into peaceful, progressive communities.
“In Datu Paglas, the residents decided to lay down their rifles and use ploughshares instead,” he said.
Sec. Dureza said that maintaining peace in the community is not only the responsibility of the security sector, as he urged the residents of Kapalong to be more pro-active and become agents of peace.
“You are the first line of defense. You should be the first to tell others to stop fighting government and turn a new leaf,” he said.
“You can’t bring peace if you don’t have peace within yourself,” Sec. Dureza added.
At the same event, tribal leader Datu Larry Masaluon declared that he and his fellow Lumads were very pleased with the recently completed infrastructure projects in the community.
“These roads and bridges,..These would put an end to our poverty,” Masuluon said.
“We are very happy with the support given to us by government,” he said. “We are all united in our quest for peace.”
For her part, Kapalong Mayor Karen Theresa Timbol said that with the completion of the Patel Bridge, their long-held dream has finally become a reality.
“Our dream has been realized because of our unity as a people,” she said.
Mayor Timbol said that there are those who are saying the government is not doing its job of providing for the needs of its people.
“That is untrue,” she stressed, saying “We need to show them that all we want is development and to provide a better life or our people.”