Sunday, August 31, 2008

Philippine, US Military Pour Millions Worth Of Humanitarian Projects In Sulu

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 31, 2008) – The United States military has poured some $10 million in infrastructure and development projects in an effort to win hearts and minds in Sulu province in the southern Philippines, Filipino officials said.

The Philippine military also spent over P39 million in similar projects in Sulu in partnership with the provincial government. It said the US aid this year went to the constructions of 13 area coordinating centers and 14 road projects, including repairs or 20 school buildings, 25 artesian wells and eight water distribution systems across Sulu.

These projects were on top of other humanitarian programs that benefited the locals, from medical missions to training of policemen and soldiers in various workshops.

Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, a Filipino marine commander, said more development projects have been lined up in Sulu by both the Philippine and US militaries as part of the Balikatan, a codename for joint undertakings between Manila and Washington.

“Progress comes easily for a community where people are educated and well-informed. In recognizing this vital factor, the military makes it its goal to help bring education especially in far-flung communities. Investing in education is the key to peace and development, which is a long term solution,” he said in a statement.

He said Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan signed an agreement with the Philippine military to maintain all finished projects.

The Philippine military projects in Sulu went mostly to the renovation of school buildings, road infrastructure, repairs of mosques, water system and livelihood programs for the locals that included goats and ducks-raising, seaweed and cassava farming.

“The military, with its humanitarian activities, is confident that the problem on peace and order will be solved. Development is the best key weapon in the pursuit of peace and progress in Sulu,” Sabban said.

The projects, he said, are part of the so-called “community organizing and people empowerment approach,” which aims to win hearts and minds of the local Muslims and get their active participation in government efforts to promote peace and development in Sulu.

Tan praised Philippine and US troops for their active roles in many development projects in Sulu and he pledged to continue supporting these efforts to bring peace in the province.

“Thank you for carrying the burden with me in improving the lives of my people through initiating peace programs and providing assistance in development projects. Peace and order in Sulu is getting better everyday,” he said. “With these development undertakings, the image of Sulu is slowly changing from chaotic to peaceful to a progressive place for everyone.”

Tan last week inaugurated seven projects – artesian wells, school building and road infrastructure - in Patikul town.

The provincial government, Tan said, has lined up various development projects in mostly poor areas in Sulu's 19 towns. In April, Tan funded the construction of at least 50 bamboo houses, worth over P26,500 each, for poor Badjao families in Tandu Bato in Luuk town.

The project called "Operation Kandili – Preserving a unique culture through providing homes for the Badjao," is a partnership between the Philippine Marines and the Sulu provincial government. At least 50 more bamboo houses in Luuk town will be constructed soon, including basketball courts in the villages and Tan pledged to release more funding for education and poverty alleviation programs.

“We have been funding and implementing a lot of projects in Sulu and all these are part of our peace and development programs. We want a culture of peace and this can be achieved through education and basic infrastructure projects and with the participation of course, of the people themselves,” he said.

Col. William Coultrup, commander of US military forces in southern Philippines, also quoted a letter sent to newspaper editors by a foreigner named Venice Wayne. In the letter, Wayne described Sulu as more stable than in the past and called the province as “more than heaven on Earth.”

Wayne, who visited Sulu in six years ago, wrote in his letter that “Sulu is more stable, more developed, and relatively safe now compared last 2002 when I first arrived despite travel warnings, advising travelers to avoid Sulu archipelago, where accordingly there are ethnic and religious animosities.”

“When I first made the journey to Sulu Ethnological Museum at Notre Dame College, the Provincial Capitol with a Moor-inspired architecture, the Masjid Jami, the largest of the town’s mosques, and the Barter Trade Market, I was caught in a pleasant surprise by their exquisiteness and culture. Bud Datu, a 200 meters high hill outside Jolo, is the site of the revered tomb of a Muslim missionary from abroad. The town and sea below may be seen from a nearby military camp.”
”Likewise, the island is rich with white beaches, having crystal clear water and lush green mountains such as the kilometer-long white sand Maubo Beach in Patikul, the next town to Jolo. But the province is more known for its excellent diving spots, the best of which is Tubbataha Reef.“

He said although overlooked, Sulu is a potential haven to reside. “I know many would raise their eyebrows with this because Sulu has a reputation for being chaotic – well, it’s really something of an image problem, which is exaggerated. But if you come down here and feel Sulu for yourself, you’ll know what I mean.“
”I admit, before my first visit to Sulu, I told myself that such place portrayed by media as a “no man’s land” has no bit of hope for peace and prosperity. However, right now, with the newly built infrastructures, including school buildings, water projects, barangay roads, programs on health, housing, livelihood, and other marks of improvement, I see not only mere hope but I see that hope turning into a reality,” Wayne wrote.
”Now that the military has the people’s support especially because of its security measures and humanitarian offensives and the provincial government has ambitious and beautiful vision for the province, the more optimism there is in solving the problems on both terrorism and poverty. Seeing concrete evidences, I now have a totally different outlook.”
”For as long as the security and developmental efforts are sustained, I see no reason that new breeds will ever resort to terrorism and choose to be in the harsh jungles. If this chain of violence is cut, I’m sure Sulu is more than a heaven on Earth.” (Mindanao Examiner)

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