1 MAY 2007
We were on our way to Magsaysay, the farthest barangay in Sevilla, an interior town 36 kilometers away from the capital, Tagbilaran City. It would take an hour's ride through a suffocating, rugged road from the town's poblacion and through mountains south of Bohol before we would reach Magsaysay. It is a barangay so remote a priest visits it just once a month, and only one bus travels to and from it once a day.
As we reached the village — an enclave shrouded in tall trees of coconut and mahogany — the burly, dark-skinned policeman in civilian clothes seemed to relax a bit. Nipa huts dotted the clearing; a few meters away rested a military detachment atop a hill.
Magsaysay was once a hotbed for the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. And though its residents say insurgents no longer roam their forests, the threat of a clash between the military and the NPA hangs in the air and slows down efforts to improve people's lives here.
In areas like Magsaysay, where poverty fuels latent insurgency, not a few of its youth joined the underground movement, while many chose to live elsewhere. In the 1990s, in fact, nearly half of the barangay's population fled to escape the hostilities. Many have since returned to Magsaysay, which now has about 900 residents. But their lives still mirror that of other villagers elsewhere in Bohol, which posted a poverty incidence of 57.3 percent in 2002 and was among the 40 poorest provinces in the country.
Magsaysay's long-time village chief, 67-year-old Gerardo Barro, says that NPA or no NPA, the lives of the people here have hardly changed through the decades. It may even be that it was the NPA presence here that finally awakened local officials to Magsaysay's plight. A literal battlefield, however, was hardly the ideal spot for any development efforts, and even now the weakest hint of possible combat or even a chase through the village can stop do-gooders in their tracks.
TODAY A supposedly cleaned-up (read: no NPA) Magsaysay has a budget of just P500,000 a year; only P1,500 of which comes from real property and income taxes. And while at least they haven't had to leave their homes in panic for quite a while now, Magsaysay ranks first in just about all poverty indicators (aside from having the largest population, with an average number of eight children per family) in Sevilla. The latest poverty survey in Bohol shows that 77 percent of the population in Magsaysay are below the food threshold and 90 percent are below the income threshold. It also has the highest child mortality rate and malnourishment, and ranks low in literacy and employment rates.
But even without these indicators, Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator Artemio Perin says Magsaysay can easily be identified as the poorest in Sevilla. A village located at the province's northernmost tip, its rocky, inhospitable terrain prevents people from farming. What little patches of farmlands residents here own are planted with rice, corn, and vegetables, and usually just for their own consumption.
Barangay Captain Barro says he has tried introducing livelihood opportunities, like a demo farm, where the villagers could try out new farming techniques and harvest the crops as one entire produce. But, he says, "they were just too lazy."
Bohol Provincial Planning and Development Officer Roger Alegado offers, however, that "laziness is actually the result of desperation." He explains, "The people keep on working themselves to the bone, but nothing happens. And so frustration develops, and through the years, hopelessness."
Services must be demand-driven, he says, and that is why it's important for the local governments to consult the community first before bringing in projects.
In Magsaysay, women were trained in tailoring, which was thought to be a good means of livelihood for them. But the women weren't able to turn their tailoring skills into income because they had no capital. The farmers, meanwhile, say they have no way of increasing their produce because they can't afford fertilizers. They also want more traders for their firewood, as well as for the root crops and fruits and vegetables they grow.
The barangay does have a few blessings — post-NPA — such as a paved road, as well as a new high school two kilometers away. Magsaysay also has its own primary school and a barangay health unit.
An international organization once wanted to work in Magsaysay but backed out after it was advised that the area might be too dangerous for its workers. Now the municipality of Sevilla itself is putting up a water reservoir and chlorination plant near Magsaysay's Bugbuak Spring that will provide potable water for the people of the entire town in years to come. (Magsaysay has the highest number of children affected with diarrhea every year.) The funding will come from donations.
Email us your comments about this article, or post them in our blog.