San Miguel, Surigao del Sur – In places where subsistence is a continuous battle and poverty is a meal served as cold as ice, conflict is as typical a wet climate that happens frequently in this side of the earth.

This is the bitter truth that Ronnie Boy Maca, 39, of barangay Bagyang have grown accustomed to since his childhood days. He belongs to a Manobo tribe that mostly dominates the upland villages in Caraga, a tribe with a fair history of uprisings and upheavals to protect their lands. He has known what it is like to live with unrest and fear for his family’s lives was never been an option.

“Like every ethnic groups in the world, the land that we till and tend to connects the very thread of life that sustains the verve in every ethnic family,” he said.

Because of poverty, families here have never had any close contact with the lowland villagers or the Christianized inhabitants of the municipality for decades and it is only recently that people who belong to this marginalized sector of the society that they interact with the rest of the world.

Living a destitute life has become attributable to the geographical location of their village which is located 12 kilometers from the next village. Wishing to visit this area would mean a three-hour banca ride and brave a rapid river current and another hour of hiking a treacherous trail. And also out of dissatisfaction to the local and national government, people like Ronnie have become more susceptible to recruitments of armed groups, while also confronting their own internal tribal conflicts.

“We’ve lost our confidence to the government. They say they want to help us but we haven’t seen the development they promised us. The government has ignored us,” Ronnie explained.

But times are a changing now. Areas such as Barangay Bagyang are the priority of the government’s peace and development program called Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapit-bisig Laban sa Kahirapan – Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services) PAMANA (Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan) aimed at addressing the root causes of conflicts in communities.

The great thing though about the Manobos is that however they may resist change in their lives, they will eventually accept things that may prove beneficial to them. And Ronnie is becoming an active volunteer for change in his village.

“We’ve received promises over the last couple of years and one project that hasn’t fully realized into a building. We’ve only seen papers they proposed for us. But with this project administered by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), we’ve actually seen people from the government coming here and working with us,” he added.

The PAMANA as a framework for intervention in vulnerable areas is anchored on three complementary strategic pillars that define core interventions to achieve lasting peace. Pillar 1 focuses on interventions that support the establishment of the foundations of peace and the building of resilient communities through policy reform and development. Pillar 2 targets micro-level interventions to promote the convergent delivery of services and goods focused on households and communities by both national and local projects. Lastly, Pillar 3 provides for meso-level interventions that address regional and sub-regional development challenges, which will contribute to peace building.

The DSWD is implementing the Pillar 2 of PAMANA. The barangay has identified a tribal hall to be built in their village through a series of barangay assemblies conducted in their village that strengthens the decision-making processes and involvement in participatory governance of individuals and communities.

“Unlike other projects we’ve seen, the great thing about Kalahi-CIDSS PAMANA is that our voice is counted. We are given the power to think and choose the solutions to our problems while respecting our culture,” he mused.

The tribal hall erected during the first cycle implementation of the project will now house the legislative body of the village and settle disputes and other internal tribal conflicts.

“I’ve had talks with my former comrades of leftist perspectives and with the knowledge I’ve received from attending seminars and meetings of the project, I laid out the plans of our village to them and got positive reactions from them,” he added.

Now that the local government units of San Miguel together with the DSWD turned-over the completed tribal house to the village, Ronnie and other villagers of Bagyang hope of receiving another round of implementation.

The introduction of Kalahi-CIDSS PAMANA in the village has brought a development in the lives of the Manobos – a welcome change from an ethnic group who for so many years has nothing to cherish but their attachment to their land.

That view is changing. They now have an infrastructure they will cherish throughout their lifetime as they built it for themselves.

Ronnie may have inspired the needed transformation of his village in the smallest possible way he could imagine by volunteering.

Together with his tribe, Ronnie is hopeful that the program will make way for a more promising future through developmental interventions, while preserving the age-old Manobo culture, traditions and values. ### (Social Marketing Unit)