Lantad Peace-Building Experience: Leading to Strategic Innovations in Upgrading the Provincial Peace and Order Council
Isolated communities, especially those that seldom receive government social services, fall prey easily into the hands of insurgents. More so, when the insurgents offer alternatives that seem better than nothing. Sitio Lantad in Brgy. Kibanban, Balingasag not only fell prey; it became an insurgent stronghold in the hinterlands of Misamis Oriental.
Accessible only by foot or by horse, Lantad is home to an indigenous people, the Higaonons. A valley with rough terrain, treacherous trails, steep elevations and hairpin curves, it was physically isolated and neglected for a long time by the government. During its fight against the Marcos regime, the Northern Mindanao Revolutionary Committee of the CPP-NPA-NDF transformed Lantad into its Regional Headquarters and the area soon erupted into a war-zone. Caught in the crossfire between government and insurgent forces, the settlers either had to flee or join the insurgents to survive. Hundreds died in the fighting and many residents fled.
The conflict continued even well after the Marcos regime had been ousted. The difference this time was that the Higaonons began their struggle to reclaim their ancestral domain. For the most part, government remained deaf to their pleas, while the NDF provided land titles which had no legal teeth.
Eventually in 2005, when the Provincial Peace and Order Council was already in place, the Misamis Oriental LGU began to literally pave the way to peace and development. After a visit to the area showed them the extent of government neglect in Lantad, the provincial government employees painstakingly brought in sand and gravel by the kilo to initially construct a solar dryer for the community and to start the construction of a road. Sand and gravel had to be brought up the mountain by foot because there was no road yet. This painstaking effort by the LGU helped them gain the trust of the residents of Lantad.
During the crucial road opening phase, the community expressed its support and ownership of the road building project by voluntarily mobilizing Higaonons to guard and protect the heavy equipment of the Provincial Engineering Office. This motivated the engineering team to hasten the completion of what was back then an inconceivable road development project. The 25-kilometer road development project stretched from the national highway into the heart of the once isolated Higaonon community. In July 2006, Lantad finally became accessible to wheeled vehicles and the 16-vehicle convoy of the provincial government was welcomed warmly by the residents when they came to visit again.
Balay Mindanaw, an NGO and active PPOC member, assisted in the formulation of a Barangay Peace and Development Plan through a participatory process that encouraged the community to share their own peace and development agenda and to hold discussions concerning local governance, barangay peace and development and partnership initiatives.
In 2007, Lantad was declared as a Special Agrarian Reform Community by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Subsequently, the community became a beneficiary of DAR’s Solar Power Technology Support (SPOTS) program, which provided electricity to 128 homes, to the community area, and to the school building. The community also obtained a DVD player and TV set for the education of the children. Lantad also erected a health center with a freezer for medicine storage and a properly lit community center for public meetings and activities. The SPOTS program also included the construction of a multipurpose building, which housed the AC-10 solar power station as well as the mini theater, mini grinder, chipping machine, peanut sheller, videoke, and computers of the community.
In addition, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources implemented a 60-hectare Reforestation Program for the community. Meanwhile, the Department of Education provided school buildings and facilities and implemented the Mobile Teacher Program which taught 106 residents to read and write.
Subsequently, the new Lantad Multi-Purpose Cooperative was formed as a vehicle for socioeconomic empowerment. Corn, banana and peanut production improved. Families who fled in the 90’s have also returned to Lantad. From 500 residents in 2005, a total of 1,033 people now reside in Lantad and the Internal Revenue Allotment of its mother barangay has also increased.
Today, Lantad is a showcase of how peace and development efforts should be pursued—not by might but through sincere and concrete efforts to reach out and make a difference in the lives of people. The PPOC was successful in making inroads into Lantad because it was able to re-engineer its organizational structure towards greater transparency and participation. Its membership includes the broadest spectrum of possible peace and development stakeholders. Tribal leaders are now key members of the Council. In sum, building the capacities of the people and empowering them to stand on their own paved the way to a successful peace and development campaign.
Misamis Oriental’s success has bolstered its confidence in pursuing similar peace-building initiatives in Sitio Sio-An, Barangay Malinao, Gingoog City in the coming years.