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Off-grid Lumad village as a catalyst for change

October 07, 2019 - Monday 4:10 AM by Jimmy Laking

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The shoe is on the other foot in Kapalong’s sitio Tapayanon. 

What was once a convergent point of two regional commands of the Maoist-inspired New People’s Army (NPA) is now a convergence area of various government programs and services. Or so this was how Major General Jose Faustino of the Philippine Army’s 10 Infantry Battalion explained the overnight transformation of the Ata-Manobo community to National Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary Noel K. Felongco in a briefing last week in Mawab, Davao Del Norte. 

The briefing took place before Felongco took the helicopter in an ocular inspection of Tapayanon where he was joined later by Kapalong Mayor Ma. Theresa Timbol. 

Felongco, the first Cabinet level official to visit the place, was impressed by what he saw and described it as promising. He said the Lumad elders told him they were willing to help themselves, albeit with government assistance. 

Faustino credited good governance on the part of local government units for the collapse of the NPA in Davao del Norte, especially in Lumad communities like Tapayanon.

The Army general was grateful for the positive response by line agency and LGU officials in developing Tapayanon. He said it was necessary so as to prevent the NPA from going back.

“The NPAs are on the run and we are winning because of strong partnership between LGUs and Lumad communities,” he said. 

The off-grid village, isolated from the outside world, was wrested from the NPA by the 10th IB in February this year after three days of operation on foot.

Felongco batted for the introduction of sustainable agriculture techniques to preserve the natural environment of the village and to ensure food security.

“At no time should they be treated as objects of charity but as partners in development who can stand on their own feet,” he said. 

He said that following sloping agriculture practices, the mountain tops and the steep slopes should be planted to trees, fruit trees, and bananas that could provide supplemental food. 

He said he was also looking at acquiring a type of wild grape plant that is yielding income to rural villagers in China. 

“The slightly-sloping and flat areas can serve as their farms but even these should be protected with hedgerows to preserve the soil.”

“If the soil is preserved and enriched, it can be inherited by their children,” he said. 

“They are willing to help themselves with support from government,” he said. “They are not exactly poor. They are just unserved and not noticed.”

Felongco also vowed to bring to the attention of a cluster of 24 government agencies the plight of Tapayanon and other Lumad communities in Kapalong.

The credit for discovering the village goes to Colonel Gilbert Ombus and his troops who were the first from government to set foot in the village. “The villagers told us they thought the NPAs were government,” he said.

Kapalong Mayor Ma. Theresa R. Timbol said strong LGU-military partnership with the Lumad communities helped end a shadow government run by the NPA in Kapalong.

To prevent the NPA from coming back, she said she would ensure that government programs addressed to the Lumad population will be sustained.

She said that together with five other far-flung sitios of Barangay Gupitan, the village of Tapayanon will be upgraded to a barangay. “With them as stewards to 60,000 hectares of land, the Lumads of barangay Gupitan can bring about the foundations of a new municipality,” she said.