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How a massacre gave obscure village hope

How a massacre gave obscure village hope

SUNDAY, January 28, 2018
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BARANGAY TUKANALIPAO, Mamasapano, Maguindanao — The death of 62 people here — 44 of them members of the elite Special Action Force (SAF) — could actually be a blessing in disguise for residents of this once obscure village, officials and residents agreed.

How a massacre gave obscure village hope
Caption : From a makeshift structure, the village hall is now a concrete building that hosts community activities.
The now infamous Mamasapano massacre, which ensued during an operation against a terrorist, had thrust what was once a neglected village of about 2,700 people into the limelight and made the government realize how forsaken it was, Arbaiyah Amelil said.

Amelil’s small “sari-sari” store was located less than 100 meters from where one of the clashes that killed Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, on Jan. 25, 2015, took place.

“Life has improved, there’s a big difference now,” Amelil, 31, said as she recounted how the people of the village used to struggle with the lack of infrastructure in the area.

Even the bridge that connected the interior of the village to the main road was difficult to cross in the past as it was made only of bamboo poles and wooden slabs. Transporting goods to market was challenging, the store owner added.

How a massacre gave obscure village hope

Arbaiyah Amelil explains how her store—right across the village hall—has been earning as much as P1,000 a day.

P1,000 a day

Three years after that fateful day, Amelil said villagers like her had been enjoying what government should have provided early on—ease of access through roads and bridges and other development projects.

“I used to earn less than P100 a day. Now I earn as much as P1,000 a day, depending on the day’s activities in the village center,” Amelil said of her store, which was just across the village hall here.

The village hall itself had been rebuilt and was now made of concrete, from being a makeshift structure of wood and bamboo.

The concrete structure also has a covered court “thanks to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government and the Maguindanao provincial government,” Amelil said.

At least 60 percent of barangay roads had since been concreted, said Ismael Hashim, village chief.  Such development projects, he added,  had helped improve the village’s peace and order condition such that it was now considered “outsider-friendly.”

“That (Mamasapano) incident was really gruesome, but it changed the way people here live,” Hashim said, adding that people used to carry firearms even if they were only attending prayers at the mosque.

“After that clash, people realized that they could be mistaken for freedom fighters or terrorists, so instead of guns, they now give more attention to farming corn,” he said.

Villagers, too, have become more vigilant since that fateful day, Hashim said.

“The suspicious presence of armed men would immediately be reported to the police or military, unlike before when people would just close their doors and windows and quietly leave the place,” he added.

Mute witness

A concrete bridge was now being built beside the “mute witness” to the carnage, the bamboo and wooden footbridge used by the SAF to cross Kabulnan River to get to the hut where the Malaysian terrorist had stayed. The concrete bridge would replace the temporary steel bridge put up in the aftermath of the clash.

How a massacre gave obscure village hope

A footbridge and access road constructed at the site of the Mamasapano encounter.

“This bridge will further improve the economic activities here, but I will not say thanks to the massacre or the encounter,” Hashim said.

He said that before the bloody incident, farmers from the other side of the river would spend P40 to P50 per sack of corn transported by a carabao-drawn cart to a wooden banca.  After crossing the river, the sacks of corn would then be transferred to another carabao-drawn cart for transport to the town center.

“Now farmers only spend P10 per sack of corn from here to the town center using tricycles known here as ‘payong-payong,’” Hashim said.

Amelil said one way of judging how life had improved here after the carnage was the presence of “pedicabs” and “single” motorbikes traversing what used to be known as the “less traveled dirt road” from the village hall to Tukanalipao bridge.

‘Bridge of Peace’

“There were few pedicabs in the past.  Seldom do they dare enter here,” she added. “Instead, there were mostly carabaos, horses and cargo trucks.”

The payong-payong (umbrella-covered pedicab) drivers and farmers now “happily transport farm produce” across the steel and wooden bridge built by the ARMM government to temporarily replace the old footbridge.

Called “The Bridge of Peace,” it was built “months after the massacre. A permanent concrete bridge was expected to be completed in May this year,” Hashim said of the P180-million bridge being built over Kabulnan River.

“In the past, our harvest would rot because farmers could not bring them to the market on time. Now, it’s a lot easier because as soon as farmers harvest their crops, they can immediately deliver the produce to the market,” he added.

Another boon after Mamasapano:  “All homes are now enjoying electricity,” the village chief said.

The incident, Amelil said, was “horrific and appalling, but we have moved on.”

Although she was among those who fled after the incident, she said the village “had left that incident behind and was trying to move forward.”

“Hopes remain high for us and we expect more government infrastructure to find their way here,” said Irene Abutazil, 36, another villager. “I believe that when there is development, there is peace. When people are earning, there is peace.”

How a massacre gave obscure village hope

This wood and bamboo footbridge, since washed away by floods, was a mute witness to the Mamasapano carnage.

Wiping poverty

Amir Mawallil, the director of the ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information, said ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman believed that infrastructure projects were a key to wiping poverty here and in other parts of Maguindanao.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu agreed, citing the “experience in Buluan (town).”

Mangudadatu added: “The more the economy improved, the more the town became peaceful because residents could devote more time to livelihood than to guns.”

Mawallil also said that the Mamasapano incident, while horrific, had become an opportunity for the government to respond to the community’s needs.

He said that in 2016 alone, the ARMM government earmarked P667 million for infrastructure projects in the whole of Mamasapano, which went into barangay roads, job opportunities, new school buildings, improved health services, as well as safe drinking water projects, which were implemented through the ARMM’s Health, Education, Livelihood, Peace and Governance and Synergy (ARMM-HELPS).

“Other infrastructure projects in Mamasapano are ongoing,” said James Mlok, head of the ARMM’s 2nd district engineering office.

ARMM-HELPS executive director Anwar Upam said that Hataman also ordered the creation of more livelihood programs for the town and other Maguindanao areas.

Engineer Baintan Ampatuan, the Regional Planning and Development Office executive director, said that the ARMM government also conducted a “Peoples’ Day” here on Thursday, to remember the massacre with medical-dental services, supplemental feeding, bloodletting and dispersal of fingerlings and seedlings to the locals.

Amelil said the carnage also changed the way women in the village went through their day to day activities.

“In the past, we have no other source of income but farming. Now, many women here are daily earners after the various livelihood training conducted by the ARMM and Maguindanao governments,” Amelil said.

Despite all these positive changes, Hashim said that for the locals, forgetting what happened in January 2015 was not possible.

“It will always be remembered,” he said, pausing beside the bridge to offer prayers.