Friday, June 27, 2008

Sulu, Basilan To Launch "Development" Offensives

Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan and his deputy Nur Ana Sahidula distribute farm implements to villagers in the province during the first H.E.L.P peace caravan last year. Sulu and Basilan provinces will launch a second H.E.L.P. peace caravan in July 17-19, 2008. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 27, 2008) – New Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has announced the start next month of the second H.E.L.P. peace caravan in the southern Philippine island of Sulu.

HELP stands for “Health, Education, Livelihood, Progress,” is a collaborative effort of national government agencies and various non-government organizations to address the immediate health, education and livelihood needs of communities affected by conflict.

The peace caravan, Esperon said, is also in collaboration with the Sulu provincial government, which played a big role in the successful launching last year of the first H.E.L.P. peace caravan which was participated by thousands of Muslims led by Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan and her deputy Nur Ana Sahidulla.

Esperon said the two-day peace caravan would begin on July 17 in Sulu and this would be duplicated in Basilan province. Both Sulu and Basilan are part of the six-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“We are currently at the forefront of a wide scale humanitarian initiative in the South, with our renewal of humanitarian and relief efforts in Sulu and Basilan,” he said.

Esperon said President Gloria Arroyo has ordered a “full-scale development offensive” in Sulu and Basilan.

“By putting all national government initiatives in Basilan and Sulu in one package, and with their economic development becoming excellent laboratories for corporate social responsibility, everything shall eventually result in a better comprehensive delivery of services,” Esperon said.

The Asia America Initiative, an international non-government organization which participated in the past peace caravan, said it will join again the next H.E.L.P. activities in Sulu.

“Our goal is to build common ground and establish sustainable social and economic development programs in some of the most impoverished areas in Southeast Asia,” said AAI’s Albert Santoli.

He said contributors to AAI's Education and Livelihood activities in the second peace caravan include, Unilever Corporation, Universal Robina Corporation, Nestle, SM Supermarkets, the Franklin Fund, the Strake Foundation, MedPharm and numerous college and university student organizations.

Tan said the H.E.L.P. is a mechanism designed to address the needs of communities in crisis due to the prevailing conflict in the area. He said the H.E.L.P initiative is also aimed at consulting with the local communities on their medium and long term concerns particularly on livelihood and employment aspect.

“We are consistent with our programs and we hope to help as much people in the second H.E.L.P. peace caravan. This is what we wanted to show the world, the good things we are doing and the efforts of this government to bring peace and development to Sulu province.”

“We ask the help of the media to spread the good news and not picture Sulu as strife-torn or haven for terrorists. Sulu is a beautiful place and we have a rich culture and heritage and as am matter of fact, the Yuchengo Museum in Makati is currently holding an exhibit about our colorful past and historical artifacts,” Tan said.

Tan was referring to the the exhibit dubbed “Beyond the Currents: The Culture and Power of Sulu,” at the Cone Gallery which runs until July 23.

Aside from artifacts, the exhibit also displays an interesting collection of documents, like treaties written in both English and Arabic. These treaties embody the negotiating points between the Sulu sovereign and the various imperial powers of the time.

Last year, Tan launched the "Fruits of Hope program" in partnership with the AAI and the Philippine National Red Cross and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The Fruits of Hope program was a model for reconciliation and terror prevention through creating livelihood opportunities in agricultural and fisheries-based communities. Because of the program, Sulu was able to shipped about six tons of assorted fruits bought from farmers and agricultural cooperatives and sold to supermarkets in Manila. (Mindanao Examiner)

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