SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao: The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will set aside P10.1 billion for infrastructure projects in 2017 to counter the spread of Islamic militancy in the area.
ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman signed early this month the region’s Public Works Act for 2017 detailing all projects to be funded with the P10.1 billion allocation from the national budget.
The regional Mindanao Assembly Act, passed annually by the 24-member Regional Assembly, is focused on construction of major roads and bridges, water supply facilities, seaports and flood control structures.
It provides for strategic infrastructure initiatives meant to promote peace and security and boost the ARMM’s investment and tourism climate.
Engineer Don Mustapha Loong, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) regional secretary, said in Sulu alone, dozens of new school buildings were made accessible to school children by newly-built farm-to-market roads.
“We have video documentations of how children now conveniently walk to school as a result of these projects,” Loong added.
Besides arterial road networks and school buildings, the ARMM is also constructing water supply facilities in underdeveloped towns in the autonomous region.
Its officials are optimistic that they can prevent Islamic militancy from spreading to five Moro provinces with the 2017 infrastructure budget.
Fanatical jihadists are spreading their campaign in isolated areas in the ARMM provinces composed of Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao by harping on poverty to undermine the government.
A big part of the P10.1-billion budget is earmarked for various projects in isolated towns in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Sulu where there are radical forces copying the style of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Most of the projects to be implemented in the Sulbat (Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi) provinces next year are arterial road networks needed to maximize access of children to public schools as outlined in the newly-enacted ARMM Public Works Act for 2017.
In the 2nd district of Maguindanao, a known bastion of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), engineers had constructed 74 public school buildings in the past 36 months in support of efforts to address illiteracy, the main cause of local residents’ vulnerability to extremism.
Records and drone images obtained last Wednesday from the office of District Engineer James Mlok, chief of the Maguindanao 2nd District Engineering Office (DEO), indicated that most of the school buildings built during the period are in strongholds of BIFF forces.
The BIFF is trying all means to keep children of Moro families from entering regular schools so they can be easily indoctrinated by radical preachers in its ranks.
Sources from the Commission on Audit confirmed last Thursday that the school buildings built by the Maguindanao 2nd DEO have all been inspected and turned over to the local communities.
Drone footage from Mlok’s office also showed that most school campuses in the 2nd district of Maguindanao are now connected to remote villages by farm-to-market roads built in the past three years.
The BIFF and the Dawlah Islamiya, also known as the Maute terror group operating in the 1st district of Lanao del Sur, are enforcing a ruthless Taliban-style justice system in underdeveloped areas, from whose residents they collect zakat (alms) at gunpoint to sustain the food and other needs of its members.
Dr. John Magno, ARMM regional education secretary, said in 2017, they will expand their peace education programs in conflict-affected areas to help address Islamic militancy.
The Department of Education in the ARMM hired more than 2,000 licensed teachers in the past 36 months.
The teachers are deployed to remote towns where there are new school buildings built by the region’s Public Works department through its eight component-district engineering offices.
“We don’t have absentee or ghost teachers anymore as what the department had before 2013. That anomaly condoned lawlessness in many areas in the autonomous region. Education is a potent antidote to religious extremism,” Magno said.