By ALI G. MACABALANG
KIDAPAWAN CITY – Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chairman Emmanuel F. Piñol wants ‘whole-of-nation approach’ for the resolution of intermittent violence in Sulu, even as he averred that military solution alone would fail as usual.
Shortly after the latest bombing attack that killed civilians and soldiers in Jolo town, Sec. Piñol in an online statement expressed objection to declaration of martial law in the town.
Piñol, a former veteran journalist, posted the following statement on the incident:
Key to Peace in Troubled Sulu
By Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol, PhD
Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority
“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
The recommendation to place the whole of Mindanao under Martial Law again because of the recent terror bombings in Jolo should be given a second thought.
“Been there, done that,” is the cliche often used in response to suggested solutions which obviously did not work.
It is evident that our current strategy of relying entirely on military power in bringing peace, order and stability in Sulu is not working.
A new approach should be employed in solving the Sulu problem, one which addresses the whole gamut of issues and grievances and where the military action is only a component.
The problem in Sulu and its capital town, Jolo, in particular is not the threat by terror groups but an apathetic population so discontented that they do not seem to care about the presence of terrorists.
I was in Jolo twice as Agriculture Secretary, first was in 2016 when I was personally directed by President Rody Duterte to check on the problems raised by Governor Sakur Tan, and then in 2018 during the so-called “Rice Crisis” when I went to as far as the Abu Sayyaf lair, Patikul.
My last trip to Jolo was in February this year following the fire which gutted over 2,000 houses and shanties.
Purposely, I decided to stay overnight, eve of Valentine’s Day, because I really wanted to get the feel of the atmosphere of Jolo.
In the short time that I stayed in Jolo, I sensed the air of discontent and despair.
The city suffers from chronic brownouts with power interruption occurring as many as 30 times a day, water hoses (not pipes) from the local water district are strewn by the side of the roads and there are as many as 6,000 houses on stilts right in the coastal frontage of the city.
Almost all of these houses do not have a sewage system and all wastes and garbage are just thrown into the water below the houses.
These areas are ideal breeding nests for extremists who find strength in the discontent of people.
The province does not produce enough food for its people and people depend on imported rice spirited in through Sandakan or Labuan in Sabah.
Chicken, eggs, fruits (except Durian, Lanzones and Mangosteen), meat and other food supplies come from the main island of Mindanao.
Phone signals are faint to weak and internet connection is a gift from heaven.
Jolo is the capital of a Kingdom led by Sultans whose powers stretched far and wide centuries ago, one of whom was received as a guest of a Chinese Emperor who died during the sojourn and whose remains were buried in China.
This is the Kingdom which has a standing claim on part of the island of Borneo yet decades of neglect and misguided approaches turned into the sorry state that it is now.
This is not a hopeless case though.
Last year, shortly before I resigned as Agriculture Secretary, President Duterte unraveled a strategy called “Whole-of-Nation-Approach” in ending the half-century-old Communist insurgency.
It calls for a concerted effort of all instrumentalities and agencies of government.
So, how do we use the “Whole-of-Nation-Approach” to solve the Sulu Problem?
In the recommendation I submitted as early as 2016, I proposed that alongside the military campaign to clear the island of armed bandits and terrorists, government must implement a “Shock and Awe” program of rural development and dramatic transformation.
First, we provide a sustainable power, preferably Solar Power, and water supply to the capital town of Jolo, improve the infrastructure, including communications facilities.
Then, we rebuild the homes burned in a series of fires and transform the area from a squalid maze of huts into a well-planned community of houses-on-stilts to restore people’s pride and perhaps convince them not to give refuge to suspected terrorists.
Simultaneous with the rehabilitation of Jolo, a campaign to penetrate the rural areas of the main island and the other island communities must be undertaken.
In areas cleared by the military, basic infrastructure projects should be implemented – farm to market roads, schools, health centres, sports facilities, livelihood projects and even internet services.
Water facilities, including desalination equipment, should be established in each and every community.
How would the people of Sulu, or any other conflict area for that matter, react when they would wake up one morning seeing all of these simple symbols of governance right in front of them?
I believe we could win back their sympathy, hearts and minds.. EFP