For all its beauty, Sulu has also been called a hotbed of radicalism, with groups like the Abu Sayyaf also calling this lush land home. The lack of government services over the past decades has made it so — though this is a situation that is changing progressively, with committed work by people from the government who are focused on that making change.
Sulu is a storied place, rich with history as the seat of the Sultanate of Sulu and its fierce people who have never been defeated by any colonial forces, be the colonizers Spanish or American. This is a province where the people are at once proud of their history as Moros who resisted all efforts to take their freedom and their land, and are focused on working toward a good future — one where they and their children can enjoy their dream of a peaceful and productive life, simple as that life may be.
A simple life now also means having access to the basics of life — like potable water on tap sourced from a safe water system. Access to safe water, along with other efforts by the government to provide for its people, will go a long way toward building trust between the people and the government. This is vital work toward weakening the foothold of radical groups in Sulu and literally paving the way toward a lasting peace there.
There is a town here called Panglima Estino that consists of 12 barangays and is home to more than 30,000 people. Until recently, the townsfolk still had to dig wells to gain access to water. The water from these hand-pump wells in this 5th class coastal town was unsafe for drinking and was salty because of the town’s proximity to the sea. You see, the beautiful sunsets against the stunning backdrop of Tutu Bay also mean that there is saltwater intrusion into the water table in this town.
Panglima Estino now has its own water system. With that in place, the townsfolk can now spend the time they used to take digging their hand-pump wells and fetching water from those wells on the other things that make life good: Work, business, study and strengthening their bonds with family and friends and building their community.
This new water system means less worry over the water-borne diseases endemic to Sulu, including outbreaks of deadly cholera. Safe water means better productivity for the people who benefit from it, since the risks of falling ill from water-borne ailments is greatly reduced. It also means more privacy for women and children because the people no longer need to make forays to the wells for water.
The Sagay-Sagay Water Supply System Level II was installed in Panglima Estino with funding from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and is the first and only water system of its kind in Panglima Estino. ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman led the formal turnover of the water system to Panglima Estino Mayor Benshar Estino on Jan. 4. With them were ARMM Public Works Secretary Don Loong and Sulu Rep. Munir Arbison.
Estino thanked the ARMM officials for the water system and for the other vital infrastructure it is building in Panglima Estino, saying the residents of the town will now have better water quality and be less vulnerable to water-borne diseases. He said they intend to establish a water district that will facilitate and manage their water services.
A total of P323.77 million in infrastructure projects has been built in Panglima Estino since 2012 by the ARMM under Hataman’s stewardship — and the infrastructure investments will continue this year with the paving of 5.5 kilometers of road in the town worth P109.5 million.
Building roads and water systems is a strong start to showing the people of Sulu that the government can and does work for them. These changes will surely go a long way toward opening up opportunities for growth that will replace the discontent sown by radical groups in the area — the people have better choices for better lives now.
This new water system and the other infrastructure projects will definitely drive economic growth in Panglima Estino because it will set the townsfolk free to focus on building stronger communities and lives. The best investments a government can make, after all, are in its people. (Amir Mawallil heads the ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information)
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