AFTER almost three years of deadly conflict, two warring families in Barangay Sulloh, Tabuan Lasa Municipality, Basilan Province peacefully settled their differences and decided to join hands to transform their strife-torn island municipality into a peaceful place.
The development marked a fresh start to local folks after the signing of the “peace settlement” last January 30 at the village multi-purpose hall between the Hassan and Dapug families, ending their fighting that started from the 2010 barangay election.
The peace settlement resulted from the intervention of Mujib S. Hataman, acting regional governor of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). He asked the two parties to settle their conflict in exchange for a “development package grant” for their community. Hataman together with the heads and personnel of different government line agencies of ARMM and the civil society organizations visited the small community of Sulloh to witness the forging of the peace settlement and to pledge for their full commitment to rebuild their devastated island village. The small community has an estimated population of 2, 000 residents of whose majority had evacuated to mainland Basilan to escape from violence by the family feud.
“The conflict in our community started when my brother who is the current Barangay chairperson of this place sought reelection in the last October 2010 barangay election. That time our municipal mayor has his own candidate whom he wanted to win. Before the election the mayor’s men snatched several ballot boxes that resulted in a commotion between us and them. As a legal action we brought this matter to the attention of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) national office in Manila,” recounted by Hadji Ben Hassan.
According to him, the DILG suspended the conduct of the election and further ordered the incumbent barangay chairperson to re-assume the post because there was special election. He said that since then the municipal mayor utilized his personnel including some military personnel to harass and to create fear in the community.
“To protect ourselves from any attack from the other camp, we also organized our selves here. We also carried weapons and fought back,” Hassan recalled of their experience at the height tensions over the years.
“There was a time we were sprayed with bullets here using high-powered guns,” he added.
He said the municipal mayor also “withheld the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA)” of the barangay. The IRA is the annual budget given to barangays for implementation of projects and the basic social services.
In the three years since the conflict began the residents lived troubled lives, the education of students were badly affected because the barangay could not rehabilitate the dilapidated classrooms, and many fishermen were afraid to go out to fish.
In signing the peace settlement, Hataman guaranteed that his government will bring back normality to the island.
The settlement called for the withdrawal of all the charges that were filed by both camps and for municipal mayor to release the IRA to the barangay and for residents to help in the rehabilitation of their community like the reconstruction of the schools and houses. Evacuaees are expected to return home.
Hataman warned them not to engage anymore in armed fighting as otherwise he will pull out all his commitments. He also reminded the residents that “if there are problems in your community that can be resolved immediately then don’t make it bigger anymore.”
Citing the reaction of the other camp regarding the development that will be poured in their community after the peace settlement, Hadji Nuljar Dapug said “We are happy now that this long struggle has come to an end and we will not rise for any armed conflict against other clans anymore.”
Shortly after the settlement ceremony, government line agencies and civil society groups conducted simultaneous activities in the place. Military and police units and the community people helped in building houses for which construction materials were provided for them while the Provincial Health Office and Municipal Health Office with the Provincial Social Welfare and Development conducted a free medical and dental mission and feeding sessions.
Meanwhile, the Nagdilaab Foundation (NFI) a partner organization of Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ), distributed schools supplies and conducted psycho-social briefing among the elementary pupils.