Macalang village in Al-Barka: From Abu Sayyaf lair into peaceful, resilient community
Al-BARKA, Basilan, March 28 (Darwin Wee, PNA) – For years, Barangay Macalang has been known to be the lair of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf group in this town. The villagers could not even build their permanent homes due to continuing harassment by the bandits as well as intense military offensives.
However, things have changed as thousands of villagers have gathered on Monday in the village’s plaza to reclaim the barangay after years of desolation through the “People’s Day” – an initiative of the regional government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to transform battle-scarred areas into peaceful and resilient communities.
“Slowly, we are going to rebuild our lives here,” Sarifa Anzala, a grandmother of nine, told the Philippines News Agency, after she received her share of relief package during the event that saw the collective efforts of different line agencies in ARMM to bring rehabilitation assistance to residents of this remote area.
“I have seen the cruelty of the war. My husband was killed 23 years ago because of this cycle of armed conflict in our community,” Anzala lamented.
The marks of the brutal war are still visible. Roofs are shattered with shrapnel. Even a mosque was not sparred. Its walls are riddled with bullet holes.
Rubber and coconut trees also bore holes from explosions – a reminder of the intense gun battle that transpired between government troops and the Abu Sayyaf bandits just three weeks ago.
“This is the last bastion of the Abu Sayyaf that we are liberating. This barangay has been impenetrable for years because of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf,” ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman declared as he led the groundbreaking of several infrastructures in a bid to revitalize and bring normalcy to Barangay Macalang.
“We earlier liberated the villages of Baywas in the town Sumisip, and Baguindan in the adjacent town of Tipo-Tipo,” Hataman said, noting these efforts are geared to deny the Abu Sayyaf bandits the opportunity to establish strongholds in remote communities.
“The Abu Sayyaf (bandits) are on the run. They don’t have any more strongholds in Basilan,” he said.
“We agreed with the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to add a military battalion in this town to ensure the safety of the residence and prevent the Abu Sayyaf from establishing its presence again,” he added.
The ARMM government also pledged an initial PHP10 million worth of infrastructures to the barangay officials of Macalang.
“The groundbreaking is a symbol that governance is back in Macalang,” Hataman said.
Anwar Upamh, executive director of ARMM-Health, Education, Livelihood, Peace and Governance and Synergy (ARMM HELPS), told the Philippines News Agency the high impact projects would involve the constructions of a water system and a barangay hall in Macalang.
Since 2012, the regional government of ARMM has allocated PHP877 million worth of projects from the region’s Department of Public Works and Highways alone. The bulk of the funds are being used to finance the construction of a road spanning 45 kilometers in this town.
Hataman said this town would also have bridges and footbridges for easy access and open the remote communities to economic developments.
“Many construction equipment and machines were bombed by the Abu Sayyaf before,” he said.
He said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) are also helping in securing construction workers building the roads in the hinterlands of this municipality.
In a separate interview, Al-Barka Mayor Darussalam Lajid admitted the presence of the Abu Sayyaf bandits has hampered the delivery of basic government services to the residents of Barangay Macalang.
“The victory that we achieved here today is not easy,” Lajid said, admitting that even himself could not just enter Macalang village ever since he was elected mayor for two terms.
“You can only come in when there’s a military operation,” he said.
“Most of the members of the Abu Sayyaf are from here. This is a well-controlled area by the Abu Sayyaf bandits,” he added.
Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said a substantial number of soldiers, about 900, have sacrificed to liberate the village from banditry.
“In our research, from 2010 to 2012 alone, 256 soldiers have been killed in Al Barka. More or less 572 were wounded,” Galvez said.
“We are happy that the entire Al-Barka is (now) “free” from Abu Sayyaf,” he added.
“This is our version of Waterloo–a weakness area for the military to operate. It’s very difficult to penetrate by our troops. The terrain is unfavorable. All the danger areas for the military are all here in Al Barka,” Galvez said.
“When I was the brigade commander here, the troops, especially the rangers, would also say that when they operate in Macalang, they would always go back with casualties,” he shared.
With the developments here, Anzala is confident that residents of Macalang can now transform their community from being the lair of the Abu Sayyaf bandits into a peaceful and resilient community.
“After years of desolation, we can now rehabilitate our community and put a stop to the cycle of violence that beset this area,” she said. (PNA)