Friday, 26 March 2010

President in Basilan

Road projects improve security, commerce in Basilan terrorist lair – PGMA

TIPO-TIPO, Basilan (PND) -- President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo found a considerably improved security condition in this former lair of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), during her first visit last Wednesday (March 24) to this town to inspect the progress of road project.

Some 2,000 town residents, most of them overwhelmed by the first-time visit, welcomed the President as she personally inspected the rehabilitation of 29.3-kilometer portion of the Basilan Circumferential Road that stretches between Barangay Cabangalan in Tipo-Tipo and Barangay Canas in Maluso.

“We are so happy because, for the first time in the history of the province, the President is here to visit us,” said Tipo-Tipo Mayor Ingatun Istarul. He said the Tipo-Tiponians are grateful for the road project because their trip to capital Isabela City, which used to take them six hours, now takes only two hours.

In her message, the President said this road project has improved the peace and order condition in Tipo-Tipo, where some of the recent major clashes between the Abu Sayyaf and government forces have taken place.

“Kuta ito dati ng ASG, dahil walang kalsada, pero ngayon takot na sila, (Because there are no roads, this town used to be the base of the ASG. But now they are gone),” the President said.

The President also said the road project has reduced the transport costs for products, resulting in the lower prices of commodities.

Basilan Governor Jum Akbar hailed the project as the national government’s manifestation of concern for Basilan and support to the local leadership.

The road rehabilitation here is part of the Basilan Circumferential Road Project, which President Arroyo initiated to spur economic growth in Basilan and its neighboring island provinces.

The Road Project is seen as a major infrastructure initiative to bringing prosperity in Basilan even as government continues its campaign against local terrorism and lawlessness.

The rehabilitation of Tipo-Tipo-Maluso Road Section started last January, with a P2 million starting fund from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The implementing unit is the Joint Engineer Task Force “Kaunlaran Basilan” of the National Development Support Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The task force is composed of the Engineer Maintenance Support Battalion, 55th Engineering Brigade of the Philippine Army, and the 1st Naval Mobile Construction Battalion of the Naval Construction Brigade of the Philippine Navy.

Tipo-Tipo, a fourth-class class municipality of some 48,500 residents, was the site of gruesome killings in 2007 that included the beheading by ASG members of 14 Philippine Marines soldiers.

In August 2009, government troops suffered 23 dead and 26 wounded as they captured the main ASG camp in the town which was also the nerve center of ASG terrorist operations. Tipo-Tipo also used to the training ground of ASG female members and children, who were recruited easily into the ASG due to local poverty and illiteracy.

As part of government’s two-pronged peace and development approach in Mindanao, President Arroyo ordered the implementation of programs for the civilian sector alongside military operations.

The Basilan Circumferential Road Project is part of the P2.2-billion road program for Mindanao, funded by a concessional loan extended by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD). The loan of 75 million Saudi riyals ($20 million or P1.078 billion) was extended on October 2005, while government provided a counterpart fund of P1.118 billion.

The Basilan Circumferential Road Project is 135 kilometers long, divided into six sections: Umayam in Maluso; Lagayas and Camalig in Tipo-Tipo; Tumahubong; Canas-Cabcaban-Libug-Benembengan; and Abong-Abong-Pali-Dikit in Sumisip.

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