Gov’t project turns former warzone in Cotabato into an economic zone

PIKIT, Cotabato Province (PIA) — President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. led the inauguration of an infrastructure project in Barangay Bagoinged, Pikit, in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Special Geographic Area (BARMM-SGA).

The Malitubog-Maridagao Irrigation Project (MMIP) Stage II, is expected to play a pivotal role in transforming a warzone into an economic zone where farmers are given the opportunity to improve their farming operations and increase their yield and income.

“So it is not only an agricultural project; it is also a major infrastructure for peace and development,” Marcos Jr. emphasized.

The president also pointed out the project’s capacity to promote peace through economic stability and community development.

MMIP II, which covers the municipalities of Pikit and Aleosan in Cotabato Province, under Region 12, as well as the municipalities of Pagalungan and Datu Montawal in Maguindanao del Sur in the Bangsamoro region, is considered a peace project because these towns are former conflict-affected areas.

The project has a total budget of P5.13 billion, which can irrigate 9,528 hectares of service area. 

Zainal Asem, vice president of the Takepan Muslim Christian Irrigators Association, Inc., recalled how the project site was a war-ridden area where government troops and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front frequently clashed.

Aside from that, there was also a “rido,” or clan conflict, which resulted in long skirmishes and violence.

Malaki talaga ang pagbabago kasi kung hindi nagbago ito, hindi tayo makapunta dito kasi warzone ito. Hindi lang sa panig ng gobyerno at MILF, pati rido kaya nagpapasalamat kami dahil sa proyektong ito parang nawala lahat ng marahas na pangyayari,” Asem said.

(The change is significant because, without it, we wouldn’t be able to visit this war-torn area, which was not only from the government and MILF sides but also from clan war. This project seems to have eliminated all violence.)

The former MILF combatant said the project also played an important role in realizing the dreams of the younger generation, as farmers were able to send their children to school.

Alagaan namin ang lahat ng proyekto dito para naman ito sa amin kasi kung masisira itong mga proyekto na ito masisira din ang kabuhayan namin,” Asem assured the government.

(We will take care of all the projects here because, if they fail, so will our livelihood.)

Meanwhile, Marietta Berman, vice president of the Panicupan Irrigators Association, relayed that the project helped uplift the living conditions of farmers in its service areas.

Kasi before, yung wala pang irigasyon napakahirap ang buhay namin, hindi kami makapa-aral ng aming mga anak. Yung mga bahay namin noon talagang round wood pa tsaka kahit motor doon sa amin wala, napakahirap,” she said.

(Before, when there was no irrigation, our lives were very difficult; we could not send our children to school. Back then, we lived in wooden houses without even a motorcycle, making our lives more miserable.)

Berman claimed that since the project’s inception, they have already reaped its benefits due to their contract to assist in the construction of canal linings. 

She also said it has contributed to the sustained peace and order in the area.

Noon ‘yung wala pang irrigation palagi kaming magbakwit. Magbakwit kami kay may putukan pero simula ‘yung may irrigation tahimik na kami, hindi na kami makarinig ng putukan hindi na kami magbakwit,” she said.

(Back then, when there was no irrigation project here, we always had to evacuate because there was always gunfire. But since the project’s inception, we have been quiet; we no longer hear gunfire, nor do we need to evacuate.)

Berman also revealed that before, farmers only depended on rainfed and communal canals, which could not satisfy their irrigation needs.

Gov. Emmylou Mendoza expressed appreciation for the president’s presence during the inauguration.

She said she was grateful that the national government recognized the importance of improving the country’s irrigation system, urging farmers to take good care of the project the government has given them.

Kaya wag natin ipagbili ang mga lupa natin kasi importante na ‘wag ma-convert yung mga kalupaan natin at tama, kayo ang mamili kung ano ang gusto ninyong itanim pero syempre nandiyan na yung water. Importante sa atin yung palay, yung kanin, pagkain kaya i-maximize natin yung tubig mula sa MalMar Stage 2,” the governor told farmers.

(That is why it’s crucial that we don’t sell our lands to prevent their conversion, and you have the freedom to plant whatever you desire, given the availability of irrigation water. What’s important is that you have palay, rice, and other foods, so maximize the availability of water from MalMar Stage 2.)

(SJDM – PIA Cotabato Province)