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War and Peace
« on: September 20, 2007, 08:15:30 AM »
By Abigail M. Olarte
www.pcij.org

Magsaysay, Sevilla, Bohol - Our security escort holding the rusty M-16 rifle grunted as the old, rickety ambulance we were riding leaped a few inches from the road. But he quickly regained his composure, and resumed his hawk-like position, his eyes darting, regarding the trees as though they were enemies.

We were on our way to Magsaysay, the farthest barangay in Sevilla, an interior town 36 kilometers away from the capital, Tagbilaran City. It would take an hour's ride through a suffocating, rugged road from the town's poblacion and through mountains south of Bohol before we would reach Magsaysay. It is a barangay so remote a priest visits it just once a month, and only one bus travels to and from it once a day.

As we reached the village — an enclave shrouded in tall trees of coconut and mahogany — the burly, dark-skinned policeman in civilian clothes seemed to relax a bit. Nipa huts dotted the clearing; a few meters away rested a military detachment atop a hill.

Magsaysay was once a hotbed for the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. And though its residents say insurgents no longer roam their forests, the threat of a clash between the military and the NPA hangs in the air and slows down efforts to improve people's lives here.

Just last February, a soldier died and two others were wounded when guerrillas from the NPA's Chocolate Hills Command ambushed the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion of the Special Operations Command of the Philippine Army. Still, the military insists the NPA stronghold in Bohol has weakened, with only "20 NPAs" left operating in the province.

In areas like Magsaysay, where poverty fuels latent insurgency, not a few of its youth joined the underground movement, while many chose to live elsewhere. In the 1990s, in fact, nearly half of the barangay's population fled to escape the hostilities. Many have since returned to Magsaysay, which now has about 900 residents. But their lives still mirror that of other villagers elsewhere in Bohol, which posted a poverty incidence of 57.3 percent in 2002 and was among the 40 poorest provinces in the country.

Magsaysay's long-time village chief, 67-year-old Gerardo Barro, says that NPA or no NPA, the lives of the people here have hardly changed through the decades. It may even be that it was the NPA presence here that finally awakened local officials to Magsaysay's plight. A literal battlefield, however, was hardly the ideal spot for any development efforts, and even now the weakest hint of possible combat or even a chase through the village can stop do-gooders in their tracks.

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Peace and Development in Bohol

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Last post September 20, 2007, 08:37:53 AM
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