Negros Oriental: Setting stage for peace and development

By Mary Judaline F. Partlow

DUMAGUETE CITY, June 20 (PNA) — Over the past recent years, a myriad of efforts by government agencies, local government units and civil society has carved out a suitable environment for economic growth and development for the province of Negros Oriental with peace playing a vital role to achieve such target.

On May 7, 2014, Negros Oriental was formally declared “conflict-manageable and development-ready” with no less than Sec. Voltaire Gazmin of the Department of National Defense leading key officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and civilian authorities witnessing the significant historical milestone of the province.

The formal declaration was signed via a resolution by Negros Oriental Gov. Roel R. Degamo, Chief Supt. Danilo S. Constantino of the Police Regional Office 7 and Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad of the AFP 3rd Infantry Division and witnessed by Sec. Gazmin, Bohol Governor Edgardo Chatto who is Chairman of the Peace and Order Council of Region 7 and Maj. Gen. John Bonafos, AFP Central Command Chief in Visayas and other officials.

The declaration was a result of years of untiring and collaborative peace efforts of the AFP and the PNP, as well as the local government units and other stakeholders, to reduce the insurgency problem of Negros Oriental to an insignificant level, to meet the internal security challenges as mandated by the administration of the President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

“I am truly happy with this development because this is what we have been working for, this is what we have hoped to achieve under our centerpiece program dubbed “Sa Probinsiya-MagDEGAMO Ta” which is aimed at attaining peace and development through Health, Education and Livelihood Programs and Projects”, said Gov. Degamo during the May 7 declaration.

Gov. Degamo went on to say that “it is also noteworthy to mention that the convergence of government efforts such as the AFP’s “Bayanihan” project and other civil-military activities in conflict areas, including the peace talks and our very own efforts to bring government services at the doorstep of our constituents, like the medical missions, have gradually earned the respect and won the hearts of the local communities such that they volunteer to serve as the “eyes and ears” of the military by reporting any suspected presence of undesirable elements in their areas”.

While the province of Negros Oriental is not entirely insurgency-free, its status now as conflict-manageable and development-ready paves the way for the PNP to take over pre-identified areas that are no longer affected by the presence of the NPA.

Internal Security: addressing threats and challenges

While it is true that the AFP had extended to a few months in 2014 its original deadline on December 31, 2013 to bring down to an irrelevant level the insurgency problem in Negros Oriental, today the number of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the province has dropped significantly due to relentless combat and non-combat operations, Philippine Army authorities say.

The 302nd Infantry Brigade based in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental, disclosed that only 14 armed “rebels’ of the NPA’s Komiteng Rehiyon Negros-South East Front (KRN-SEF) operating in the central and southern parts of the province remain on the run.

The 79th Infantry Battalion, whose area of operations covers that of the NPA’s KRN-SEF, reports that from calendar year 2012 to present, it had conducted a total of 16 encounters with suspected rebels, recovered 27 assorted firearms and cleared 13 barangays that were either threatened with or influenced by the insurgency.

Furthermore, during the same period, 14 harbor areas or camps of the NPA were discovered, nine suspected rebels were killed while 26 others surrendered while 49 members of the NPA’s Yunit Militia or mass-base supporters were co-opted.

The rebel returnees and surrenderees have since been given cash and livelihood assistance by the provincial government through the Provincial Social Welfare Office and/or the national government under its social integration program.

Governor Degamo had also ordered to extend assistance to the families of fallen “rebels” who were killed in recent clashes this year between the Army and the NPA.

These accomplishments are not merely attributed to combat operations alone but also to the “Bayanihan” activities of both state agents and its partners from the non-government sector, specifically the Oriental Negros Children’s Advocacy Network (ONCAN) and Bantay Bayanihan, to attain lasting peace in the province.

The Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP)-“Bayanihan” campaign of government to eliminate insurgency gives the rebels a chance to lay down their arms and live a peaceful life instead of continuing with their armed struggle.

The AFP has lauded the involvement of government agencies, LGUs and other stakeholders in the campaign to provide the necessary basic needs of the people for development to come in and for peace to flourish.

Current AFP records show that of the 25 cities and municipalities in Negros Oriental, 22 are now classified as “insurgent-free” while three others “manageable conflict-affected”.

These are the municipalities of Siaton and Sta. Catalina (specifically the barangays of Milagrosa, Talalak and Nagbinlod) and Guihulngan City (barangays Sandayao, Trinidad, Hinakpan and Binobohan).

Land Reform: poverty reduction through land distribution

Poverty has always been said as the main cause for insurgency. Along with it comes the perception of inequitable land ownership or distribution to the poor who are more vulnerable to the enticements of the rebel movement, according to Army officials in the province.

Many of the rebel returnees when interviewed had claimed that they had basically joined or supported the insurgency movement due to hardships such as having little food on the table or no land to till.

Addressing this problem, the provincial office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has reported gains in its land acquisition and distribution under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) over the past three years.

The CARP scope for Negros Oriental covers 33,792 hectares of land to be covered by CARP, with a balance of 18,589 hectares as of December 31, 2010.

The provincial DAR distributed in 2011 a total of 2,141 hectares to 1,456 agrarian reform beneficiaries and 2,042 hectares to 2,108 ARBs in 2012, according to a report from the said agency.

In 2013, the target for land acquisition and distribution was pegged at 2,050 with an accomplishment of 1,553 hectares distributed to 1,193 ARBs and a balance of 497 hectares up for distribution to 381 beneficiaries.

Documentation for the balance has already been completed and the Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) ready for registration.

For the year 2014, the provincial DAR office targets distribution of 4,970 hectares of land to 3,819 ARBs while its target for 2015 to 2016 covers 7,385 hectares for 5,675 beneficiaries.

Food security: sufficiency targets surpassed

Despite the disasters that hit Negros Oriental in the past three years, the province has persistently managed to increase its food production to a level of sufficiency and even registered surplus in vegetable produce.

Negros Oriental had already reached its 100 percent level of food sufficiency in 2009 and from 2010 to current, maintains its surplus sufficiency level with excess vegetables being sold outside of the province to areas like Zamboanga del Norte, Cebu, Bohol and the neighboring province of Negros Occidental, according to Provincial Agriculture Officer Greg Paltinca.

The province’s current food security state reflects a steady incline in food sufficiency from 2000 at 25 percent, to 45 percent in 2004 and 75 percent in 2007.

Rice production is now pegged at a sufficiency level of 40 percent or a slight drop from an average of 60 percent in the past years caused by disasters such as massive flooding and typhoons that battered the province.

Corn production was reported at a 70 percent sufficiency level last year, according to Paltinca, who assured that the provincial government continues to work hard to address the food security requirements of Negros Oriental and provide its constituents with sufficient, safe and nutritious food.

Disaster preparedness: climate change mitigation and adaptation

Climate change is for real and with the recent disasters, natural or man-made, hitting Negros Oriental over the last few years, local government units are now becoming more actively involved in disaster preparedness and response.

The provincial government of Negros Oriental and the LGUs of its towns and cities have drawn up their respective disaster preparedness plans while allocating budgets for the procurement of rescue equipment, trainings and other crisis management activities.

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) of Negros Oriental recently approved a budget of P80 million as its disaster risk reduction and management fund for 2015, to be taken from the five percent of the province’s executive annual budget of around P1.6 billion in 2015.

The DRRM fund, formerly known as the five percent calamity fund of a local government unit, covers four areas for allocation – mitigation and prevention, preparedness, response and rehabilitation.Part of the DRRM fund shall be used for climate change and environmental programs such as the construction of infrastructures like roads, foot bridges, and other flood-control projects.

In Dumaguete, Engr. Jose Chiu, head of the city’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, disclosed that the local government has procured two satellite phones as part of its emergency response and management plan.

Also, the city government has acquired three power generator sets, distributed VHF radios and cellphones to the barangays, established flood warning systems, a super tanker that can contain 12,000 liters of water as well as three portable water tankers that can contain 3,000 liters of water each to be deployed to barangays during times of disaster.

Chiu also disclosed that the city government is looking at buying a mobile water filtration system that can process 6,000 liters of water per hour to supply disaster victims with clean, potable water.

At least 700 packs of disaster rehabilitation kits are on hand, ready for distribution to victims when an emergency strikes, Chiu added.

According to Chiu, the city government had drawn up a five-year disaster management plan in 2012 and over the last two to three years, it had gradually improved on it with corresponding mitigation and adaptation measures.

Meanwhile, Dr. Edgardo Barredo, assistant provincial health chief of Negros Oriental, stressed the need to include nutrition interventions in the disaster preparedness plans in the local government levels.

Barredo emphasized the need for disaster plans at all levels of government, down to the barangays, as well as the pre-identification of evacuation centers to minimize the impact on disaster victims.

The most vulnerable to disasters, calamities and conflicts are the infants, young children, pregnant, lactating or breastfeeding women, the elderly, and those suffering from chronic communicable and non-communicable diseases, like diabetes, and those whose immune system has been compromised, according to Barredo.

Peace and order: setting the stage for economic development

Development and peace are two of the main political agenda for the province of Negros Oriental to improve the lives of its people and provide a secure environment.

Aside from the insurgency problem, crime prevention and crime solution are key areas where law enforcement agencies, specifically the PNP, have to put more emphasis on.

The provincial PNP office, headed by OIC provincial police director Sr. Supt. Mariano Natuel, Jr., has disclosed a slight decrease in the average monthly crime rate and average monthly index crime rate for the first two quarters of 2014 as opposed to the same period in 2013.

A statistics graph from the PNP Negros Oriental Office showed that the average monthly crime rate from January to June 2014 was marked at 60 percent or five percent lower than the 65 percent average in the same period of last year.

For the average monthly index crime rate for the first six months of 2014, the PNP reported a slight decrease of 3.03 percent at 32 percent compared to the same period of last year at 33 percent.

However, records show that in 2012, the average monthly crime rate in Negros Oriental was way far below at 19 percent for the period from January to June, or representing a 242.11 percent increase in the year that followed.

Also, the average monthly index crime rate for the same period in 2012 was pegged at 11 percent which skyrocketed to an increase of 200 percent in 2013.

Crime solution efficiency, however, increased from 33.6 percent in the first two quarters of 2012 to 52.41 percent in 2013 but dropped slightly to 52.12 percent in 2014 for the same period.

On comparative crime volume, the first two quarters of 2014 showed a slight drop of 8.84 percent or a total of 4,827 incidents compared to 5,295 of the same period last year.

But, the crime volume from January to June of 2013 reflected a 250.89 percent increase or 3,786 incidents higher than that of the same period in 2012 at 1,509.

In Dumaguete City, the capital of Negros Oriental, a rise in the number of shooting incidents is seen in 2014 compared to last year.

Supt. James Goforth, Dumaguete police chief, said about 90 to 95 percent of the shooting incidents were related to the illegal drugs trade.

Comparative data provided by Goforth showed that from January to June of 2014, a total of 21 shooting incidents were reported in Dumaguete compared to only 14 for the same period of last year.

Supt. Goforth, however, could not provide other data on crime statistics in Dumaguete City as of this writing but he assured that the police and the city government are doing their best to curb criminality in the city.

Amid criticisms from various sectors in the community, the city government is providing the Dumaguete police with assistance such as motorcycles, radio communications equipment and the like to beef up security and enhance police operations.

Mayor Manuel Sagarbarria had announced earlier that the city was in the process of acquiring closed circuit television (CCTV) systems to be set up in strategic parts of Dumaguete.

Both police and civil authorities have repeatedly rejected public perception that the shooting incidents in Dumaguete were extrajudicial killings, saying that these were instead a result of two rival groups engaged in the illegal drugs trade.

Commission on Human Rights-Negros Oriental chief, Dr. Jess Cañete warned that if left unattended, the seemingly culture of impunity in Dumaguete will have a negative impact on the city’s economy.

According to Cañete, the police, the local government and other sectors in the city must come up with more tangible approaches to crime prevention and crime fighting, as he condemned the killings as human rights violations, saying that regardless of the background of the victims, no one has the right to claim their lives.(PNA)