The cry of daughters of Pikit

PIKIT, North Cotabato---As Saida Salaban, 45, hurried her way off to their farm, the earthly feeling of quietness and coolness of morning prevailed in her.

While strolling the muddy road of the place, the sun’s powerful rays flood over the landscape, reluctantly making way for a new day in the beautiful village of Sitio Kadingilan, Barangay Lagunde, some 10 kilometers away from town proper of Pikit, North Cotabato.

Suddenly, a loud crack in the silent desert air going off ripped through her ears, as if she was right next to a fireworks display.

Then, like a scene in movies, everything seemed moving in slow motion as she found herself on the ground-stumbled, crawling, gasping- in the middle of crossfire.

“Hindi ko alam kung ano ang gagawin nang mga oras na iyon,” (I don’t have an idea what to do that very moment) Saida recalls. “Bigla na lang lahat nagsisipagtakbuhan ngunit di alam kung saan patungo,” (In short time, people were running but didn’t know where to go) she added.

To make matters worse, Saida was crashed in agony seeing her 12-year-old niece named Ruben sprawling beside her, whom she realized had saved her life, for it was the boy who sustained the bullets that supposed to hit her.

Saida was left with no choice but to witness the agony of Ruben for survival.

Unfortunately the boy died minutes later after suffering fatal gun shots.

“Gusto ko siyang tulungan, pero hindi ko alam kung papano kasi nagkakaputukan pa,” (As much as I wanted to help him, I could not do it because we were in the middle of crossfire), she sadly recalls.

When she got a chance, in state of great remorse, she ran to a place she thought safer one and started looking for her children.

It was then back in January 2000 but Saida could not contain her tears every time she recalled that event in her life.

Transit point

Pikit is always in the eye of the storm, dragged in conflict, from 1997 because of the warring factions and the armed conflict in place erupt seem every three years.

Among the major armed conflicts include the all-out-war declaration in 2000, waging of war in 2003 after series of bombings in Mindanao, the declaration of MOA-AD as unconstitutional in 2008, prompting some groups to stage attacks on various civilians after.

Lagunde, as one of transit points of both combatants and government army forces, villagers always left with no choice but were caught in the crossfire.

“May mga panahon na bago pa man magkaputukan, nakaalis na kami, pero may panahon din na bigla-biglaan lang darating na hindi inaasahan mangyari,” (There are times that before the conflict erupted we already left the village but there were times that unexpectedly came), said Tarhata Sulaik-Karim, 45, mother of two and the village chairwoman.

For barangay captain Tarhata, the images of conflict continue to conjure into to her mind, especially the struggles of women.

“Sa sobrang taranta, hindi na namin inaalintana ang dilim, lamig at pagod habang dala-dala ang aming mga anak at alagang hayop,” (When we got bewildered, we were heedless of the dark, cold and tired while carrying our children and domestic animals) barangay captain Tarhata said.

Every time conflict occurred in town, Lagunde become a ghost village.

People leaving the place, bringing something that helped them survive in the evacuation center.

Unmatched struggle

As observed, women and children carry a great burden in times of war.

Moslima Solaiman, 32, was six months pregnant when conflict happened in 2003. The unbearable trouble she experienced while escaping in war, exacerbated by the chaotic situations in the evacuation center prompted her untimely giving birth to a boy.

Sadly, the child died in the evacuation center. “Walang kapantay na sakit at hirap,” (It was of unmatched pain and struggle) Moslima said as she describes the feeling as victim of unfortunate circumstances.

The food rations and other aids were usually not enough. Sometimes, in the absence of men, women must take care of their children while also making a living.

“Minsan isa, dalawa o tatlong buwan, minsan abot ng taon, depende sa sitwasyon,” (Sometimes one, two or three months, sometimes one year, depending on the situation) Moslima said as she recalls how long they stay in the evacuation center in times of conflict.

Stealing crops

Sarah Usman, 36, the president of women association in the village, said that there were instances that the food rations and aids were not enough and the only option they opted was to go back to their villages to forage for food or something to sell.

“Naging magnanakaw kami sa sarili naming mga sakahan, ng aming mga alagang hayop,”(We became thieves in our own land and domestic animals) she said.

Sarah said that in times like these, despite the warnings not to go back in their farms, they still do it for their children.

Usually, according to her, they went to their farms at night, risking their lives in the process to salvage anything that will enable themto survive in the evacuation center.

“Kung nakikita mo na nahihirapan at nagugutom ang mga anak mo, lahat gagawin mo kahit na minsan ikamamatay mo na,” (Seeing your children in difficulties, in hunger, you will do all everything even it means it will take your life) Lina said.

Sarah said that they saw the government and non-government efforts to help those who were displaced but the numbers of affected families were huge every time armed conflict occurred.

It means, according to her, understandably, individual needs cannot be provided timely to all families in the evacuation centers.

Peacebuilding mechanism

The government, through the Department of Social Welfare and Development started the implementation of PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) Project in mid of 2012 in Pikit.

The Project is funded by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), as part of the peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts of the government to villages affected and vulnerable to conflict.  

Utilizing the community-driven development strategy, villages of Pikit underwent several processes including series of barangay consultative assemblies, trainings, participatory conflict analysis, and identification of community projects, its implementation and sustainability.

The government has poured some Php37.8 million pesos from 2012 to 2014 for the three cycles, to finance various PAMANA community projects, which the communities themselves identified, to provide better access to basic social services, while at the same time supporting peace-building efforts. Each cycle, forty-two barangays of Pikit received Php300, 000 as grant.

Among the projects implemented include water systems, solar driers, electrification, agricultural supplies and equipment (tractors, corn shellers, rice threshers, others), livelihood facilities, road rehabilitation, peace and community training centers and many others.

Empowering community, women

According to barangay captain Tarhata, more than the various projects implemented, it is the processes in coming up with the projects is more important to them.  

“Masarap iyong pakiramdam na ipinagkatiwala sa mga tao ang proyekto at binigyan ng kapangyarihan na mamahala para kanilang napiling proyekto,” (It is nice that people are trusted and given the power to managed their own chosen project) Tarhata said.

Villagers, according to Tarhata, were able to unite as they discussed root causes and drivers that fuel the prevalence of conflict in their community. Along the process, they determine their needs and priorities, as well as their proposed mechanism to address their identified concerns.

It was then also that Lagunde women were given the opportunity by the villagers to show what they’ve got.

Various activities were women-led like barangay assemblies, orientations, and identification of community projects up until the implementation.

Far from the old mindset that women are confined at menial tasks at home, Lagunde women became an active sector that fosters peaceful relations between and among communities and address the root of conflict.

Lagunde villagers are now benefiting Community & Peace Learning Center with basic amenities worth Php645, 800.00.

This serves as venue for trainings, livelihood activities, gatherings and other important community affairs, especially for women.  

A one unit 15m x 25m solar drier project, amounting to Php320, 520.00 was also constructed by the community to help farmers to increase the quality of their yields.

The lack of solar drier in the community left villagers to use their road that sometimes is also the root cause of conflict in the community.

The government initiative through PAMANA, serves as venue of different activities which enabled Saida, Tarhata, Moslima, Sarah and the rest of the women and men in Lagunde and the rest of Pikit villagers gather together, not to evacuate but to map as one, their visions of becoming a peaceful and developed communities.

As daughters of Pikit, they will continue to  trumpet and cry for a permanent closure of internal armed conflicts, making way for peace like the sun’s powerful rays to flood over Pikit and the rest of the country. ###