Commentary: LGU "arms-to-farms" program bearing fruit in Sulu
Legazpi City (25 October) -- The local government initiated program offering livelihood opportunities to Muslim rebel returnees in exchange for their weapons has borne fruit in Sulu, a former secessionist hotbed which has shaken off its image as one of the country"s 10 poorest provinces.
In acknowledgement, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cited Sulu Governor Benjamin Loong's "Arms to Farms" project as a concrete example of a successful government effort to uplift the lives of Muslims by offering livelihood programs to those who turn their back on armed rebellion.
President Arroyo said that because of Loong's pioneering efforts, Sulu has made the big turnaround as former rebels are now living peacefully as farmers, fishermen and government soldiers.
According to Loong, the Arms to Farms project began when the province of Sulu applied for a loan with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) to purchase tractors, farming equipment and planting materials to be distributed to MNLF rebels who were interested to "turn a new leaf" in exchange for their weapons.
Loong said that rebels-turned-farmers are now cashing in on crops such as coconuts, abaca, coffee, and tropical fruits such as mangosteen, lanzones and durian.
"They are also mass planting cassava, corn and a variety of vegetables as these too are high-yield crops." Aside from agriculture, Sulu"s coastal villages also have a flourishing seaweed farm business and cashing in on the abundance of other sea treasures such as tuna, lobsters and squid which are exported to neighboring countries such as Japan and China.
Loong said that due to the wide acceptance of the Arms to Farms program, the poverty incidence in the province, composed of 157 islands and islets which 619,000 residents call home, has gone down from 67 percent to 47 percent. (PIA-5) [top]