October 25, 2011
Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, chair of both the Senate Committees on Agriculture and Food, and Social Justice and Rural Development, challenged the government to spend billions on strengthening agriculture and food production in Mindanao, as opposed to “wasting precious resources that will needlessly destroy lives and property.”
Pangilinan makes this call a day after the Armed Forces of the Philippines launched the first air strike made under the Aquino administration, which has already claimed at least 35 lives and has forced the evacuation of about 3,000 civilians.
The air and ground assault was targeted toward a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with whom the Philippine government is currently engaged in peace talks.
Pangilinan points out, “There is nothing that our country will gain by waging an all-out war against our fellow Filipinos. In fact, in the four decades that we have been waging war in the south, we have already lost close to P100 billion in damage to crops, infrastructure, property, and in spending for arms and ammunition that have killed countless lives. That’s P100 billion that we could have invested elsewhere, like for agriculture and food production, education, housing, health, and other basic services.”
The lawmaker reiterates a position that he has held since chairing the Agriculture and Food Committee in the Senate. “We have neglected agriculture for decades, which is why our neighbors like Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and Thailand are zooming past us while we are limping like a crippled old man. If we had, instead, focused on developing agriculture in our “food basket” of Mindanao, think of where we might be today.”
Pangilinan also cites as examples the gains made by peace initiatives of the Ramos administration.
“History has taught us that a military solution in Mindanao has failed time and time again,” the senator says. “We must look at the Ramos administration’s aggressive peace initiatives in the 90s that helped create the window of opportunity that laid down the foundation for economic progress in cities like GenSan (General Santos), Cagayan de Oro, and Davao. In the Mindanao experience, war has brought only misery while aggressive peace initiatives have brought real, tangible progress and development in these areas.”
General Santos, for example, has risen from being a war-torn area to the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines,” with exports in 2010 valued at $359.4 million (approximately P15.5 billion).
“The root cause of insurgency is poverty,” Pangilinan points out. “So why should we waste even more precious resources when we should instead be helping our people get out of poverty? What our people in the rural areas need are sustainable agricultural programs that can help feed our people and give our farmers and fisherfolk dignity in their professions. Then maybe they will no longer be encouraged to take up arms.”
“Ang sanhi ng gulo sa Mindanao ay matinding kahirapan. Ang solusyon ay pagkain at kabuhayan, hindi baril at armas,” Pangilinan reiterates.
The lawmaker earlier called for a temporary suspension of ceasefire talks until the provisions of the agreement are made clear, and those responsible for the disruption of peace talks are held accountable for their acts.
“We continue to call for justice for our fallen soldiers, plus the innocent lives that got caught in the crossfire. But while we need to re-think our handling of the peace negotiations with the MILF, we ought to do so in the context of how to strengthen the peace process rather than abandoning it for the path of war. And we need to retrain our focus on feeding our people, rather than perpetuating an unnecessary war.”
Image Source: The AIM Team