Sunday, April 03, 2011

Siay villagers get new road in Zamboanga Norte

What used to be a muddied footpath is now an all-weather road cutting through a wide expanse of abundant farmlands in Barangay Siay. For the villagers, this is the picture of development that for years they all had been waiting for.Siay is now accessible by motor vehicles, making the transport of goods and people easier and convenient.

Siay Barangay Captain Lambana (left) recognized that their people’s hardships were brought about by the lack of a proper road access. Their request was granted through the company’s Social Development Management Program. At right is TVIRD’s CReDO Superintendent Joel Alasco.

ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines - Siay is one of the first villages one will see coming down from the mountains of Canatuan towards Siocon town proper in Zamboanga del Norte province in the southern Philippines.

Like many areas in the countryside, Siay is rich in natural resources. Situated in the flatlands just beside the Lituban River, Siay’s wide and verdant rice fields attest to Siocon’s importance as a premier agricultural town in the province.

Along the road, Siay’s copious agricultural lands are eye catching. Its more than 800 hectares of land are mostly irrigated rice fields tilled by some 400 families who are also dependent on planting root crops, coconut, corn and banana for a living. A patch of forest area in the west complements the lush rural backdrop; in the east, a river continuously supplies water to irrigate the rice fields.

Yet, despite its natural abundance, Siay is home to impoverished families. It remained underdeveloped because for decades it suffered from its inaccessibility to major market areas where farmers can trade their products.

While farm produce was aplenty, profits from their sale were dramatically reduced by exorbitant labor and transportation costs. Consequently, the residents’ dream of improved quality of life had ground to a standstill for decades.

Recently, however, the people of Siay were given a renewed sense of hope when TVI Resource Development Phils., Inc. (TVIRD), which operates a copper-zinc mine in Canatuan, heeded their call for help in the construction of a farm-to-market road.

In early December last year, Siay Barangay Captain Hamulod Lambana brought with him the sentiments of his people and approached TVIRD for help. It was clear in his mind that the time is ripe to break the bondage of hardship that his village had experienced for years; that the primary solution to Siay’s economic woes is the construction of an access road. TVIRD’s Community Relations and Development Office (CReDO) Superintendent Joel Alasco, who received Lambana’s plea, said that it was only but fitting for the company to extend help to the village.

“We had identified the road access problem of Siay as among the priority projects of the company under its Social Development and Management Program for 2011,” Alasco said. “We understand the significant positive impact that this project will bring to the people of Siay.”

In less than three months since Lambana made his appeal to TVIRD, the company was able to finish construction of the 1.4-kilometer road. According to Ed Nercuit, TVIRD’s Civil Engineering Services Manager, the road construction was completed in just 12 days. He said his men who worked on the road construction shared many happy stories about grateful residents who shared their food with the workers for the duration of the project.

One farmer even donated a piece of his rice field so that the road could cross over. On the last day of construction work, the villagers offered a goat that they served for lunch as a token of gratitude and in celebration of an important occasion in their area.

What was once a muddied footpath is now an all-weather road cutting through a wide expanse of abundant farmlands where all kinds of vehicles can conveniently pass through. For the people of Siay, this is the picture of development that they all had been waiting for.

“Now, the rice thresher can conveniently get near our rice fields during harvest time,” Wilfredo Ucab, a village councilor and farmer-leader, said. “Before, we had to spend more than a thousand pesos per hectare just to hire manual labor so that our farm yield can be brought to the thresher. Also, the cost of transporting our goods to the market has significantly decreased.”

Lambana is ecstatic: “I am so thankful that TVIRD attended to our request as quickly as it did. In just a matter of months, we already have a dream road in our barangay.” Fresh in his first term as village chief of Siay, Lambana’s pro-active leadership had gained the people’s trust and confidence despite his being a Muslim in a predominantly Christian community. He has gained more respect on account of this significant achievement.

Now that they have a proper road that conveniently connects them not only to markets, but also to the lone public school in the area and to the Siocon town proper, the people of Siay have all the reason to work harder for the development of their village. The road has likewise given them the opportunity to dream for a better life again. Of late, farmers are talking about planting high-value crops such as onions and vegetables.

“Our long wait for a road is over,” said Lambana. “This will undoubtedly spur economic activity on our village. Our people will forever be thankful to TVIRD.”

Barangay Siay is now a place where people can enjoy the benefits of beauty and, with a little more hard work, bounty. It clearly manifests that sustainable development is possible through responsible mining. (Joseph Arnel Deliverio)

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