Eisen­hower’s men take lead in bring­ing progress to Basi­lan

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - SUNDAYBIZ - By Ira P. Pe­drasa

THEY were once prom­i­nent politi­cians, with vast re­sources at their dis­posal. To­day, these two for­mer elected of­fi­cials are the ones look­ing for re­sources to help bring progress to a trou­bled province.

For­mer Sarangani Gover­nor Miguel Dominguez and Anak Min­danao Rep. Ariel Her­nan­dez would rather work on the side­lines these days, know­ing full well they are now in a bet­ter po­si­tion to help a war-torn province re­claim its lost glory.

Both are Eisen­hower Fel­lows who joined an in­ter­na­tional lead­er­ship ex­change pro­gram de­vel­oped in honor of Dwight Eisen­hower, the 34th US pres­i­dent and cel­e­brated World War II hero. Ac­cord­ing to its web­site, the Eisen­hower Fel­low­ship “ex­ists to in­spire lead­ers around the world to chal­lenge them­selves, to think be­yond their scope, to en­gage oth­ers, in­clud­ing out­side of their cur­rent net­works and to lever­age their own tal­ents to bet­ter the world around them.”

Pre­vi­ous Filipino fel­lows in­cluded a mix of per­son­al­i­ties from all sec­tors, such as the late Bud­get Sec­re­tary Emilia Bon­codin, for­mer Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion chair Lilia Bautista, Zuel­lig Fam­ily Foun­da­tion pres­i­dent Ernesto Gar­i­lao and Western Min­danao Com­mand Deputy Com­man­der Bri­gadier Gen­eral Car­l­ito Galvez Jr., among oth­ers.

“The Eisen­hower Fel­low­ship was able to teach me not only to be­come a bet­ter leader, but also to keep in mind that it’s more pow­er­ful to work with other bet­ter lead­ers who have full un­der­stand­ing of the com­plex is­sues of in­equal­ity, un­der­de­vel­op­ment and even peace, and to jointly share re­sources to be part of the durable so­lu­tion,” says Her­nan­dez, who heads Balay Min­danaw-In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Peace in Min­danao.

Her­nan­dez says the gov­ern­ment alone can­not solve the prob­lems of the na­tion. He says an ac­tive cit­i­zenry must “own” these is­sues and work for so­lu­tions.

Dominguez, the sec­ond youngest gover­nor to be elected in Sarangani and now an

es­tab­lished busi­ness­man, agrees. “I’ve been gover­nor for nine years. There’s ab­so­lutely no way gov­ern­ment can solve this. An ac­tive cit­i­zenry should en­sure in­sti­tu­tions on the ground can func­tion.”

It was due to this mind­set that the Eisen­hower fel­lows came to­gether in 2013 to be­gin lay­ing the ground­work for the Basi­lan De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram. The pro­gram aims to de­velop the po­ten­tial of the 12 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Basi­lan by chang­ing the per­spec­tives of both the lo­cal gov­ern­ment and res­i­dents on ed­u­ca­tion, health, youth de­vel­op­ment, and peace and or­der.

Why the Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion in Mus­lim Min­danao (ARMM)? The Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion’s (NCR) econ­omy re­mained the most vi­brant in the Philip­pines. In terms of its share to the na­tional gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, NCR con­trib­utes 2.6 per­cent­age points while ARMM ac­counts for only 0.01 per­cent­age point, as of the latest of­fi­cial data.

“You think you can do your lit­tle mi­cro­fi­nanc­ing or small projects there, but at the end of the day, I don’t think those can come up to any kind of in­dus­try that can be com­pet­i­tive and that can re­ally raise the stan­dards of liv­ing,” Dominguez says.

Her­nan­dez says it was hard pitch­ing the idea of rolling out the pro­ject in ARMM where “no­body wants or dares to go.” It also did not help that Basi­lan, the fo­cal point of the pro­ject, is known as an Abu Sayyaf lair.

Dominguez says he him­self had not set foot on Basi­lan at that time. “Why the hell would I go to that god­for­saken place, but now, let’s give it a chance.”

Another prob­lem then was that the Eisen­hower fel­lows only had $25,000 for seed money.

But they were per­sis­tent, and they knew there was some­thing they could do.

“It was time to bring in the real, hard in­vest­ments [but] out­side of the gov­ern­ment [cof­fers]. It was quite timely that we en­tered this dream or am­bi­tion to make a dif­fer­ent in­flu­ence on how things are hap­pen­ing. So as early as 2012, we called our net­works, our friends and busi­ness­men,” he says.

The big­gest credit goes to one of the coun­try’s most in­flu­en­tial phi­lan­thropist, Jaime Au­gusto Zo­bel de Ayala, who also hap­pens to be the honorary chair of the Eisen­hower Fel­lows As­so­ci­a­tion of the Philip­pines (Efap).

“With­out Jaza (Zo­bel’s ini­tials), who would be­lieve us?” Dominguez says. Her­nan­dez agrees, say­ing “when you talk to him, he’s very [de­ter­mined]. He told us, ‘let’s do ev­ery­thing we can to con­trib­ute’.”

ARMM Gover­nor Mu­jiv Hata­man, who also be­came an Eisen­hower fel­low around the same time, was the key per­son who al­lowed the team to touch base with the res­i­dents.

Her­nan­dez says the Basi­lan De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram, which is part of Efap’s Con­se­quen­tial Out­come Pro­gram, is a ca­pac­i­ty­build­ing mea­sure. In con­trast to the pro­grams bor­der­ing on char­ity de­vel­oped by mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions, its aim was to put a hu­man face on the process, he says.

“We are not para­troop­ers here, we are not mes­si­ahs. If you have the money, you just fly your he­li­copter there and then pull out when the work is done. That’s not us,” he says.

Sig­nif­i­cant changes have emerged since the Eisen­hower fel­lows be­gan work in Basi­lan. Out of the 12 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, four al­ready have work­ing ru­ral health fa­cil­i­ties ac­cred­ited by the Philip­pine Health In­sur­ance Corp.

Health aware­ness also meant less ma­ter­nal deaths. Pre­vi­ously in Ak­bar, an av­er­age of 60 moth­ers died each year be­cause of preg­nancy com­pli­ca­tions and lack of health fa­cil­i­ties. He said the num­ber has gone down to zero, thanks to a sys­tem that al­lows eas­ier re­fer­rals be­tween clinic and hos­pi­tal.

Moth­ers are now go­ing to doc­tors and health ex­perts, rather than to the lo­cal “hilot” mid­wife. The lo­cal hilots are not with­out jobs, how­ever. “If you bring a mother to the clinic or hos­pi­tal, you re­ceive a P500 in­cen­tive,” Her­nan­dez says.

The youth is also a big part of the pro­gram, specif­i­cally in the pro­mo­tion of peace and or­der.

“This is very im­por­tant, be­cause as it is right now, the lead­er­ship in the 12 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Basi­lan is re­ally into tra­di­tional pol­i­tics, the war­lord types. If you don’t build a new breed of lead­ers, this will con­tinue for the next 50 years,” Her­nan­dez says.

Youth lead­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives have been des­ig­nated per mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Each one has his or her own pro­ject. “One thought of ‘Born Free’, which al­lows moth­ers to give birth with­out spend­ing a sin­gle cen­tavo. Another thought of ‘ Peace Ed­u­ca­tion,’ a means to end­ing ‘ rido’ (fam­ily vendetta wars),” he says.

Her­nan­dez, who grew up in Guin­goon see­ing many dead bod­ies lined up on the ground, says the is­sue of peace and or­der in Basi­lan is a com­plex one. “Don’t be­lieve that it’s the [Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front], the deaths there are mostly due to fam­ily wars.”

Eisen­hower fel­lows ad­mit that they are “grap­pling” with peace and or­der is­sues. But they are not afraid to go there. Dominguez and Her­nan­dez say they are even plan­ning to bring Zo­bel to the site to see how the pro­ject is do­ing.

Dominguez says the busi­ness­man is very ex­cited with what the group is do­ing. “He saw the com­mit­ment in the lo­cals, that there is an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate some kind of change. Why will he con­trib­ute if he knows it’s go­ing to end up in a bot­tom­less pit?”

Her­nan­dez says this con­fi­dence stems from the fact that the pro­gram lead­ers are deeply in­vested in the lives of res­i­dents there. “If you know the lo­cals, build re­la­tion­ships with them, they will tell you if it’s safe or not. I will make a bet noth­ing’s go­ing to hap­pen to you if you lis­ten to them.”

He ad­mits, how­ever, that peace and or­der sit­u­a­tion in the area will take time to sta­bi­lize.

“The peace and or­der is­sues are com­pli­cated. But you can get good gains by start­ing on re­solv­ing the is­sues on health and set­ting up a sys­tem for qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion,” he says.

Dominguez adds the pro­ject will push through with or with­out the Bangsamoro Ba­sic Law, which is sup­posed to put in place a gov­ern­ing body to re­place what the na­tional gov­ern­ment calls a “failed ARMM”.

Asked if they will still go back to be­ing politi­cians, both gave a re­sound­ing “no.”

“I’m just happy in­flu­enc­ing these war­lords, see­ing hope in them. We’ve seen a lot of war­lords, say in Lanao del Sur, they’re al­ready talk­ing like health of­fi­cers, health work­ers. There’s hope for as long as you men­tor them,” he adds.

He says it’s mak­ing both lo­cal gov­ern­ment and citizen “full own­ers of the process.” And they are just con­tent to make it work. They know, be­cause they were once politi­cians and are now among and work­ing with the cit­i­zens.

“We just started as like-minded in­di­vid­u­als, but the pro­ject will still grow. There’s some­thing com­ing up this Oc­to­ber. We’re not a mul­ti­lat­eral agency that pro­vides only the num­bers. We put a hu­man face to the sit­u­a­tion. Not just one, but sev­eral sto­ries,” Her­nan­dez says.

Both be­lieve the Basi­lan pro­ject can be repli­cated.

“Our the­ory of change as Eisen­hower fel­lows is sim­ple. If you can do it in Basi­lan, you can do it else­where in the coun­try,” he says.

FOR­MER Anak Min­danao Rep. Ariel Her­nan­dez (left) and for­mer Sarangani Gov. Miguel Dominguez

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