Gov’t awardee says few options for OFW families in Maguindanao

PASAY CITY, Metro Manila—MAGUINDANAO province, the site of a mass killing last month, is one of the safest places in the country.

That is according to Abdilah Malasigan, whose family was recently hailed as the Model Overseas Filipino Workers Family (MOFYA) this year for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

We will say that again and again, said Malasigan, who has been a seafarer for 21 years.

“You don’t have any other choice,” Malasigan said on the sidelines of this year’s MOFYA national awards by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

“You were born there [in your hometown], and you grew up there.”

Apparently, for some of the 57 killed November 23 in fourth-class town Ampatuan, some 15 kilometers northwest of Malasigan’s hometown of Datu Odin Sinsuat, they would also die there.

“Our parents and siblings also live in Datu Odin Sinsuat. Our parents are too old to go to another place,” Abdilah said.

The Malasigan family currently owns a 12-hectare rice field in the second-class municipality of Datu Odin Sinsuat. They also own a 5-ha. fish pond, a 2.5-ha. coconut farm, a 2-ha. rice field, and a 4.5-ha. corn field in neighboring Kabuntalan municipality where Abdilah’s wife Sahada hails from.

Datu Odin Sinsuat is near the provincial capitol of Cotabato City, also Maguindanao’s commercial center.

Malasigan told the OFW Journalism Consortium that the municipalities in the southern part such as Ampatuan, Datu Saudi-Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, and Shariff Aguak are the places marked by violence.

The entire province of Maguindanao was placed under military rule for eight days after the killings that is being allegedly masterminded by the Ampatuan municipality political leaders Andal Ampatuan Jr. and father Andal Sr.

The younger Ampatuan recently pleaded innocent to the criminal charges filed against him.

Business

MALASIGAN said it’s been business as usual for his family’s agriculture-related businesses in Datu Odin Sinsuat and Kabuntalan towns.

This is also his indicator of normal activity in his place, even if isolated and occasional bombing incidents also strike at the capitol in Cotabato City.

The tension that grips the province has not spilled over to small businesses in the northern part of the province, claims the third engineer seafarer of Altamar Shipping International Co.

Though he observed that some residents from the four municipalities flocked to the northern side of Maguindanao, including Datu Odin Sinsuat, during the eight days of Martial Law.

No problems happened thus far, but Malasigan said he and his family won’t mind leaving behind their small businesses and properties if the conflicts from the southern part go northward.

“Then we will have a hard time,” Malasigan says.

Local residents’ perceptions of safety are overshadowed by the killings, and the socio-economic and safety conditions of the entire province, he added.

Maguindanao, some 950 kms. southeast of Manila, is the Philippines’ third lowest-ranked province in terms of human development, according to the 2008/2009 Philippine Human Development Report or PHDR.

With a real per capita income of P15,681 as of 2006, this province of 710,829 residents has a human development index rating (2006) of 0.535, that being comparable already to African countries Mauritania (0.557) and Swaziland (0.542).

The province has gained a reputation for being the most strife-torn. From 1986 to 2004, says the 2005 edition of the PHDR, Maguindanao is the province with the highest number of encounters involving the members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The 2005 PHDR adds areas like Maguindanao that are hit by conflict will miss out potential revenues and foregone investments, the latter being both a local cost as well as a spill-over cost.

Areas facing conflict situations “are bound to have a fall-out in terms of lower investment, lower output growth, and higher employment than otherwise, in the same way that ordinary taxes raise the cost of doing business,” writes the 2005 PHDR. [351 words]

Claims

THE Malasigans are among the few OFW entrepreneurs of Maguindanao, which is home to families of nearly-4,000 land- and sea-based overseas workers, 164 overseas permanent settlers, and over-6,000 migrant households.

OFWs like Malasigan have brought home remittances that were more than the provincial government’s income in 2003: P647.294 million in remittances, versus the provincial government’s total income of P498.145 million.

The 2006 Family Income and Expenditures Survey (FIES) of the National Statistics Office estimated that Maguindanao’s OFW families have received P1.2 billion in remittances.

Malasigan claims doing business in his hometown is “logical” citing that his rice fields employ local residents and some relatives.

The 53-year-old Abdilah says at least 80 percent of what he earns as a seafarer goes to wife Sahada.

He says while he’s away, Sahada takes full responsible for the children, as well as providing revolving capital to the farm and fishing businesses.

The couple left for Manila to attend the MOFYA awards Nov. 22, a day before the massacre in Ampatuan town, and returned two days after.

When the couple received the citation as a regional finalist at the posh MOFYA ceremonies in Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel, Sahada said she felt uneasiness from the crowd when “Maguindanao” was mentioned.

Later, Abdilah brushed aside her feelings.

“Our place is safe. Period.”

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OFW Journalism Consortium