SIMUNUL ISLAND, Tawi-Tawi – FOREING-ASSISTED donor agencies have joined forces and trooped Simunul Island for a series of peace and development activities in line with the 628th anniversary of the advent of Islam in the country.
This island town in coordination with foreign donor agencies and other stakeholders launched Ziarah Simunul (or Visit Simunul), a multi-sectoral campaign to promote this island, otherwise known as Islamic capital of the Philippines.
The activity kicked off last November 6 with Lepa-Lepa Pangalay, an inter-barangay fluvial parade of decorated bancas accompanied by dancers of pangalay. The municipal government also launched its 1st Kinakan Food Festival and Cultural Night, to showcase the music and dances of the rich culture of the Sama people in Simunul.
Foreign-funded agencies launched several projects in the island on the same day. Among the agencies who participated were the Mindanao Economic Development Council (Medco), UN-GOP Act for Peace Programme, WorldBank-assisted Mindanao Rural Development Programme (MRDP), US-funded Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) and Local Governance Support Program for ARMM (LGSPA).
Act for Peace Programme launched Barangay Doh Tong as Peace and Development Communities (PDC), which comes with package of development projects.
Doh Tong village chieftain Makhdum Hamja said his community is very thankful to be chosen. “This will give sahaya (light) to this community,” he said during the launching ceremony.
Medco Chairman Undersecretary Virgilio Leyretana said the activity was very timely as the island is commemorating the advent of the coming of Islam to the country through Arab missionary Sheikh Karimul Makhdum in 1380, almost a century and a half earlier before Christianity reached the Visayas region in 1521. He was particularly referring to the Sheilh Makhdum mosque and Makhdum’s tomb, which he described as the “deaf and mute witness to the rich culture of this island.”
Besides the launching of PDC Doh Tong, Act for Peace Program also led the groundbreaking of more than P600,000 water system project in Barangay Bakong.
Leah Bugtay, Act for Peace information officer, said the project will be able to set up 30 tap stands that could cater to more than 400 households in Bakong village and 800 others in the neighboring villages of Panglima Mastul and Bagid.
Act for Peace Program Manager Diosita Andot said this is their commitment to assist communities that have been affected by the conflict. “We continue to keep that promise not only for Simunul but for the entire Mindanao,” she declared.
MRDP for its part installed its municipal facilitators in Barangay Bagid, who will be overseeing the projects in the island.
According to Sherwin Manual, MRDP information officer, the program includes assistance to the fisherfolk and seaweeds farmers in the village as well as cow fattening.
Municipal Agriculture and Fisheries Officer Abdelnasser Gregana said through the influx of the various assistance, they noted an overwhelming increase on terms of fish catch from 35 to 85 percent with seaweeds harvest from 50 to 85 percent.
BEAM, which is committed to the uplifting the quality of education in Mindanao, led the groundbreaking of the P500,000 community learning center at Hadji Aluk Elementary School in Tubig Indangan, the same coastal village where Sheikh Makdum first landed some 628 years ago. Leyretana said this project is very meaningful as “through education we can find a common denominator in bridging our different ideologies and principles.”
“This is indispensable, in the sense that a man without education will not be able to determine what is right, what justice is and what is wrong,” he told the audience during the groundbreaking ceremony.
Aurelia Abdula, principal of the school beneficiary, said this two-classroom learning center (CLC) will lessen the anguish of her teachers and pupils, who have had to make do dilapidated classrooms for years. Abdula said of the current six classrooms only three can be used.
According to BEAM coordinator Rollie Dela Cruz, the CLC will provide basic child education, basic functional literacy for adult learners, non-formal education accreditation and equivalency for the out-of-school youth as well as livelihood enterprise support to the community.
LGSPA led the guests and other visitors into a “big book” reading at the sideline of the Act for Peace water project launching. Six grader Adawiya Hakim thrilled the audience with her own way of reading the big book, a handwritten history of Simunul.
On November 7, LGSPA launched at Tampakan Elemntary School the Sama version of the written Khutba (Islamic sermon) which was followed with the launching of the “Masjid as Center for Peace and Development.”
Sheikh Abdulwahid Inju, grand mufti of Tawi-Tawi, told the audience of mostly imam and ulama, this written Khutba launching is in consonance with the message of Sheikh Makhdum when he first arrived to Simunul, which is performing “ibadat” (religious obligations). “This khutba is indeed one,” he said in Sama.
Hji Suaib Bahauddin, imam of Tampakan mosque, said this written khutba will save his time from doing extra research for his Friday sermon.
“This would be a big thing for us,” he said, comparing with doing his own research which requires hours and days in preparation. Khutba is a sermon led by Imam during the Friday congregation prayer at the mosque.
LGSPA with the Simunul community and religious leaders launched the “Masjid (Mosque): Center for Peace and Development.” Julio Cezar Benitez, LGSPA consultant in Tawi-Tawi province, said this is an approach they wanted to develop for this province. “We believe that key to peace is in the spirituality of one being, so we have to explore it.”
“Because in mosques, we can talk and can settle things (our differences),” added LGSPA coordinator Marion Villanueva during the launching ceremony.
For the local government, Mayor Benzar Tambut said his administration will also work hard to maintain and keep this island peaceful. He said they will also work to establish Simunul as an “Island Heritage.” The Sangguniang Bayan will pass a resolution addressed to the National Historical Commission for this, he said.
Leyretana added activity like this may not necessarily bring instant peace but a good start already towards that direction. As he puts it: “Attaining peace is not like a 100-meter dash run but a 400-meter relay.”