Isabela City, Basilan – FOLLOWING through on the “humanitarian invasion” that President Arroyo launched when she visited this province last Aug. 14, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) released an initial amount of P50-million to jumpstart the construction of the 86-kilometer circumferential road in this province.
Secretary Jesus G. Dureza, presidential adviser on peace process, who was also designated by the President to head the Health, Education and Livelihood Progress or HELP for Basilan and Sulu, said “The money will pave way for the partial construction of the road, which is the main artery of this province.” Dureza was in Basilan in late August to assess the effects on civilians of the ongoing military operations there and met with the provincial officials and department regional heads.
He said the road project will enhance the movement of goods and people in the island, which is currently beset by series ongoing military operations against the Abu-Sayyaf group that has already displaced more than 14,000 individuals.
According to DPWH Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Assistant Secretary Dimas Soguilon, the 86-kilometer is part of the 135-kilometer circumferential road of the province. He said at least 76 kilometers of the circumferential road have already been paved.
Dimas said the Basilan circumferential road projects are under the P2.2-billion Road Projects in Mindanao, whose 51% of the funding were loaned from the Saudi Fund for Development.
The Saudi government pledged $20-million loan for road projects in Mindanao, which is payable for 20 years with five years grace period. Aside from the Basilan circumferential road projects, other road projects include the Lanao Lake Circumferential Road and the Cotabato Diversion Roads, said Subair S. Diron, project director of the Saudi Fund.
Dureza said the bulk of the fund is expected to be released sometime next year, “but the President cannot wait and immediately ordered the DPWH to release an initial fund of P50-million to start the road project here.”
Diron said the Basilan road project has a construction cost of P756-million, the 91-kilometer Lanao Lake Circumferential Road has a total budget of P773-million and Cotabato Diversion Roads were given P667-million to pave the 11.80-kilometer road.
He said the government is projecting to finish all the three major road projects in 2010.
To help facilitate the construction of the road, Task Force Thunder Gen. Juancho Sabban said the military is sending three engineering battalions, namely from the Air Force Engineering Battalion, Naval Construction Brigade (Sea Bees), and Army Engineering Battalion.
As these developed, more than P19-million worth of damage has inflicted on at least 13 elementary and high schools in this province since the hostilities erupted two months ago, said Department of Education’s Undersecretary Ramon C. Bacani.
In his report during the assessment meeting, he said at least 1,890 students and 36 teachers could no longer go to their respective schools because of the on-going military operations.
“The peace and order situation should be resolved as soon as possible to convince the parents to send their children back to the school again,” he said.
In addition, the Department of Agriculture also pledged P1-million worth of cows to be delivered to the provinces of Sulu and Basilan to help the livelihood of the farmers also affected by the current armed conflict, said Oscar Parawan, agriculture regional director for Zamboanga Peninsula.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said they were asked to assess the coastal areas of Basilan for suitable for high-value fishes.