Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mission Impossible Accomplished: Government Restored to Lantad, Misamis Oriental

SITIO LANTAD, BGY. KIBANBAN, BALINGASAG, MISAMIS ORIENTAL – (MIKE BAÑOS / July 10) - Nineteen years after reaching its nadir as the center of the communist insurgency in Northern Mindanao, government was officially restored to this enclave with the re-opening of the Kibanban-Lantad provincial road Saturday, July 8, 2006.

Spearheaded by Misamis Oriental Gov. Oscar Moreno, the inter-agency government task force returned in triumph aboard a 16-vehicle convoy to link up with elements of the Philippine Army's 8 th Infantry Battalion led by Lt. Col. Andrelino Colina which has earlier secured the sitio from the New People's Army latest effort to wrest it back.

"When I arrived here this morning, I shed tears of joy at the realization we have fulfilled our promise to you, and together we have accomplished what everybody said was impossible," an emotional but jubilant Moreno told a crowd of around 500 residents and visitors at simple rites to turn over a brand new multi purpose dryer and P30,000 worth of livelihood assistance to barangay officials led by Kibanban Bgy. Chairperson Adelina Santua.

The sitio was earlier identified by the Moreno administration as a high-profile target for development. "We focused on bringing government back to Lantad because it was the symbol of past neglect, the province's wealth in agriculture, especially abaca, and not the least, Lantad's role in history as the symbol of the communist insurgency," the governor told the Star.

In 1987, the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army set up a shadow government in Lantad headed by "Mayor" Conrado Castillo. It became the NPA's Front Committee 4B, North Central Mindanao Command's guerrilla base which supplied logistics to communist guerillas in present day Northern Mindanao and the Caraga Region. All former government services were taken over by the rebels including health and education. A cooperative store was even set up to ostensibly serve the residents but in reality served as the logistics center for arms, ammunition and supplies for the rebels.

"We had up to 200 guerrillas training here in 1990," recalls Bgy. Kibanban Kagawad Bruno Lindahay, himself a former NPA guerrilla. "Our comrades would come down every week to buy around P30,000 worth of food and supplies from our cooperative store."

Lindahay, like 95 percent of Lantad's 400 residents, is a Higa-onon. The NPA used their native bushcraft and knowledge of the local terrain to effectively isolate Lantad from the rest of the province using indigenous booby traps such as the abo-abo, batik and gahong. They also used land mines making the enclave impregnable from military and police forces who had no recourse but to bomb and strafe the area from the air using MG-520 helicopter gunships, and the prop-driven T-33 "Tora-Tora" COIN aircraft and OV-10 Broncos.

The CPP-NPA functioned as the de facto government in Lantad from 1987-1990 and control of the area see-sawed back and forth between the NPA guerrillas and military troopers until late last year when the 8IB under Colina effectively wrenched control of the area from the insurgents.

Moreno, with Misamis Oriental Mayor's League Chairman and Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental Mayor Yevgeni Emano, first attempted to reach Lantad on foot during Holy Week in 2005. The Capitol team finally reached the enclave during the Lantad fiesta celebrating the feast of Sto. Niño in October 24-25, 2005 after which the decision was made to bring back government to the place through the restoration of the Kibanban-Lantad road.

During the team's latest visit previous early February 2006, , they had to trek the 11-kilometer stretch from Bgy. Kibanban's poblacion on foot and back due to inclement weather which turned the road into an impassable morass of mud.

"I promised you the next time I would come back, I would arrive here with no mud on my shoes," Moreno recalled. "I myself did not expect this would be realized so soon and I share this moment of victory of our commitment, unity and teamwork as members of the team which brought back government to Lantad."

Provincial Board Member James Caiña, chairman of the Misamis Oriental Infrastructure Committee, said he fielded practically the entire complement of the Provincial Engineer's Office under Engr. Roland Pacuribot to restore the 18-kilometer road from Kibanban to Lantad.

"I consider this project only 50 percent finished since we still have to upgrade it to provincial road standards of 6-8 meters from its present 4-5 meters," Caina, known as "Mr. Infrastructure" to his fellow board members and capitol department head said. "So far, we have spent some PhP1.5 million in fuel and other supplies, and quarried the gravel and sand we needed from the creeks below."

Although they have already fielded three dump trucks, a payloader, a road roller and a road grader in addition to the original bulldozer deployed earlier, Pacuribot admitted their work has often been delayed by the weather since it usually starts raining in the afternoon in Lantad, situated some 890 meters above sea level.

Already, Kibanban Bgy. Chair Adelina Santua said motorcycles for hire, know locally as habal-habal , have started plying the road since May. A one way trip from the national highway in Balingasag costs P150 and takes less than two hours, though residents have petitioned operators to bring it down to P70-100 since the road is constantly being improved. Previously, it took residents a three hour walk to reach the poblacion of Bgy. Kibanban, some 11 kms. away and the only means of transporting their farm produce was on horseback, which cost P120 and took 2-3 hours.

"Since the road was restored in May 2006, our people have been encouraged to plant more coffee, banana, abaca and corn," Lindahay said. "Our greatest need now is for electricity but we are hesitant to approach Gov. Moreno for this since he has already done so much for us and also needs to take care of other areas in the province."

Moreno concurs there's not time for resting on their laurels. "Caina's army is here in tandem with Colina's army," he said. "This is a teamwork I hope will be replicated in other areas of the province; a partnership that can become a showcase for others to follow. It is difficult to attain peace through peaceful means, but it is more rewarding."

As he addresses the capitol hierarchy Monday morning in his annual State of the Province Address, Moreno has a showcase that not only Misamis Oriental, but other similarly situated sitios and barangays all over the country can emulate as well.

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