Monday, April 15, 2024
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HomeDNX DefenseFrom bangbang to bokbokak: Pursuing peace through poultry, productivity

From bangbang to bokbokak: Pursuing peace through poultry, productivity

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BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – The Army is seemingly on a new offensive after reporting that it has dismantled fronts or areas where Communist terrorists claim they can move and extort freely in the past.

Units across the province under the 303rd Infantry Brigade have intensified their efforts in helping former rebels and cleared communities find a source of income, with projects ranging from poultry raising to making bags and mats from indigenous materials.

Over in the north, the 79th Infantry Battalion that had already dismantled the Northern Negros Front announced a partnership this month with the local governments of Escalante City and Capitol’s Veterinary Office for the livelihood of former rebels.

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Army 79th Battalion, 2nd Lt. Dan Carlo Samoza said in dispatch that the two government units gave 200 free-range chickens with two sacks of feeds to former rebels under the Escalante Peace Farmers Association (ESPEFA) a week ahead of Valentine’s Day 2024.

The group, headed by its chairperson, Janet Pantonial, reeceived the grants that serve “as a crucial component to the initiatives of the 79th Infantry Masaligan Battalion in support to community development,” the dispatch said.

Samoza also quoted 79th IB commander, Lieutenant Colonel Arnel P Calaoagan, as having said that this livelihood is” in line with the Masaligan Troopers’ broader commitment to be of service not only to our reintegrated citizens but to the entire Negrosanon as a whole which will greatly contribute to national development.

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“The 79IB’s remains steadfast in its mission to protect, sustain and empower FRs throughout their transformation, empowering them, assisting and guiding them towards a brighter future with a sustainable source of income such as this livelihood program,” he added.

Weaves of Hope

Meanwhile, the Third Infantry Division waxed poetic about its community project in the upland sub-village of Madaja that was described in a dispatch from Third Division spokesman Lieutenant Colonel J-Jay Javines as a place where “the echoes of armed conflict have been replaced by the sweet whispers of harmony. For more than two years since the declaration of Sitio Madaja as conflict-free in 2021, the resilient residents, predominantly Indigenous Peoples (IPs) from the Bukidnon Magahat tribe, now live and savor the serenity of their village that has blossomed into a haven of peace and hope.”

The dispatch reads in part:

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Situated in the northern part of Barangay Buenavista in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, Sitio Madaja is approximately 15 kilometers distant from the city center. Before transforming into a conflict-free community, the sitio was susceptible to the influence of the Communist-Terrorist Group (CTG).

In an interview, 94th Infantry Battalion Commanding Officer LTC Van Donald Almonte stated that Sitio Madaja is included in the original first clusters of sitios organized by Central Negros 2. These clusters, tagged as ‘cluster one,’ are considered the hardcore areas of the CTG in Negros.

“During my assumption in March 2022, we deployed modified Community Support Program (CSP) teams to revisit previously cleared communities, including Sitio Madaja. Through this initiative, we uncovered the potential of Madaja in weaving ‘banig’ (sleeping mats). However, their market is currently limited to their community. Hence, we look for partners to help them in marketing and enhancing the quality of their product,” LTC Almonte said.

Despite the area’s geographical location and the persistent looming risk, in June 2022, the 94IB and the Association of Negros Producers (ANP) led by its External Affairs Manager, Ms. Sybel Nobleza, together with other youth volunteers from Hope Builders Organization, Negros Incorporated (HBONI) and 100.5 CPSU Radyo Muscovado Sweet FM, conducted an assessment to evaluate the said sitio, its residents, and the available raw materials.

Ms. Nobleza revealed that 94IB is responsible for consolidating the mentioned IPs into one ‘minuro’ or hamlet. An officer from the unit also introduced to her the idea that these IPs possess the skill to weave quality ‘banig’ using “Tikog”. Tikog is a special reed grass that grows in swampy areas along rice fields, characterized by solid, jointless, and typically triangular stems.

“When we were in the area, I confirmed that Tikog is abundant in their rice fields. So, we advised them to preserve and cultivate this grass because they use some of it as food for their farm animals. During the assessment, we discovered that weaving sleeping mats is just one aspect of their recreational activities after tending to their farms. I was deeply moved upon learning that their monthly income is only around P900.00 to P1000.00. They sell the family-sized sleeping mats at a low price to the communities below the sitio, sometimes as low as P150.00, just to avoid carrying them back up the mountain,” Ms. Nobleza narrated.

To change the residents’ notion that they might only be visited and assisted once, according to Ms. Nobleza, they made their visits to Madaja on a monthly basis. In July 2022, they returned to the sitio with the 94IB and other stakeholders to conduct an Entrepreneurial Mind-Setting Workshop. Utilizing a module written in Hiligaynon dialect for better comprehension and engagement among the participants, Madaja ‘tikog’ weavers were taught about the characteristics of an entrepreneur and how to run a business.

This workshop was followed by a Product Development Training in August 2022, participated in by the elders or the ‘master weavers,’ along with their children and grandchildren. They were taught about the standard measurement and cost of their products, particularly for single, double, and family-sized sleeping mats. Aside from sleeping mats, master weavers can also create place mats and hats using ‘tikog’.

“They are skilled in crafting sleeping mats; however, identifying standard measurements poses a challenge for many, as most of them lack the ability to read and write,” Nobleza elaborated.

The advancements noticed in the residents’ proficiency in crafting diverse products from reed grass have drawn the interest of other key stakeholders, including the Local Government Unit of Himamaylan City, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Convoy of Hope, among others.

With this development, in September 2022, the 94IB launched ‘Project Tikang’ to empower the residents of Sitio Madaja by providing them with the necessary resources, training, market access, and support to establish sustainable livelihoods through the support of these government agencies and non-government organizations. The ‘tikog’ weavers of Madaja were also organized and successfully registered with the Department of Labor and Employment under the name Madaja Hand Weavers Association (MAHAWA), with the assistance of 94IB and its partners.

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Julius D. Mariveles
Julius D. Mariveles
An amateur cook who has a mean version of humba, the author has recently tried to make mole negra, the Mexican sauce he learned by watching shows of master chef Rick Bayless. A journalist since 19, he has worked in the newsrooms of radio, local papers, and Manila-based news organizations. A stroke survivor, he now serves as executive editor of DNX.
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