The Birth of Inter-LGU Alliance in Basilan
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Zamboanga City, March 26, 2018 – March is Women’s Month and birth is associated with women, the beginning of life; thus, any conversation about beginnings is always a great one, in general. The 20th century Scottish scholar and theologian William Barclay once said, there are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.
However, the birth and growth of one small group have etched Basilan in the Filipino consciousness by the group’s violent actions whose ideology justified civilian killing, kidnap for ransom and indiscriminate bombing of public and government facilities. For most of its residents, this is not the image that is close to their hearts. They yearn for their place and time that is peaceful, inclusive and prosperous.
Today, the local government is leading the way to make Basilan be known for things other than the violence. The proactive involvement of the municipal and provincial governments in this quest is partly credited for the improving peace and order situation. While eating lunch at the public market in Isabela City, we casually asked a stall owner of the security situation. We were told, the weekly “kotong” (extortion) of P200 per stall had stopped, and they are now able to walk and talk freely than before. They noticed the instances of bombing and kidnapping have dropped down.
While there are still pockets in this insular province where armed groups roam around, in areas where relative peace is at hand, government services are back in full swing, families are back pursuing their livelihood. The regular presence of elected officials in their respective locality is serving a boost to the improved local atmosphere and popular confidence that things are getting back to “normalcy”. Perhaps this is best known by the monthly “People’s Day” where government and non-government agencies converge to bring back the services needed by the community folks.
In Western Basilan, where relative peace is at hand, an idea has begun to take shape – the birth of interlocal cooperation, or now popularly referred to as inter-LGU alliance. This idea took shape based on the understanding among its local leaders that they are best placed to do what is needed by their communities, that there is a need to come together because they have common or overlapping concerns, and that by working together they can maximize limited local resources or be able to attract partners to help them.
From this conversation came the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) based on Cotabato City who had the experience supporting inter-LGU alliance in the ARMM, including the Iranun Development Council (IDC) in northern part of Maguindanao. A “listening tour” was organized to provide interaction between IAG’s team of experts and the local officials. The team notices the “safe ambiance” as they roam around the provincial circumferential road as people go around their livelihood and daily businesses.
While the idea of inter-LGU alliance will be the first in the province, it is not the first time in the country as many have trekked and benefitted from this local cooperation. The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) which is already present in the area took it a notch higher by inviting the target local officials to a brainstorming session to determine if there were enough common bases to make this idea work in the province and to level off with them as to their vision and commitment to this emergent idea of interlocal cooperation – Western Basilan Alliance (WBA).
A capacity building proposal was crafted and approved and is now in place. A consultation series was undertaken to create awareness and generate support form local stakeholders. The next six months will be crucial to the critical ingredients and sustaining the WBA where local “alliance champions” will be exposed to existing and successful models of interlocal cooperation like the Metro Naga Development Council (MNDC) and Central Negros Council for Coastal Resources Development (CENECCORD).
Whatever the underlying reasons and however the configuration, the success of inter-LGU alliance building hinges on critical legal, institutional and financial ingredients. These are the foundations the WBA will have to build on.
In his inspirational message before the WBA barangay captains in January this year, Governor Hadjiman “Jim” Hataman-Salliman relates the power of ideas whose time has come, like the alliance building they are pursuing – imagining about the future and not just complaining or lamenting about the present or what is not around. He thinks local leaders should be engaged in creative thinking because the words we think can become the world we will live in. Time will tell if the WBA will become part of and a positive influence on the future Basilan they are envisioning today.
Part 2: Western Basilan Alliance?
In an earlier article “The Birth of the Inter-LGU Alliance in Basilan”, we tackled the underlying motivation and emerging idea of interlocal cooperation among local government units in the insular province.
While the province has made more headlines about the notoriety of a small group whose violent ideology justifies horrific kidnapping, extortion and slaughter of civilians, it has more to offer and be known for. It is a major player and pioneer in the rubber industry in the country. While its coconuts are now largely affected by ‘cocolisap’ infestation, it is still second to rubber as source of land-based livelihood for its residents. It has some of the best beaches, islands, waterfalls and similar natural attractions in the country and their tourism efforts are geared not just towards ecotourism, but culture-based ecotourism, highlighted through their annual festivals, as if telling the world that the best is yet to come for the province.
Since assuming the provincial leadership, Governor Jim Hataman has made a clear position to stop foreign and local large fishing vessels from encroaching into the provincial waters. This, he and his mayors, have made clear in their first meeting with the president. Since then, the local fishers have reported increasing catch and the trading of fresh fishes have received a tremendous boost with buyers all the way from Mindanao and the Visayan cities.
The five municipalities – Hadji Muhtamad, Lantawan, Maluso, Sumisip and Tabuan Lasa – sit on the Western seaboard of the province. These municipalities share “common bases”. They share boundaries, coasts and waters. There is an existing trading network centered around Maluso. The town of Maluso also attracts traders and consumers from as far as Tongkil in Sulu. These Western municipalities share a unique diversity, i.e. multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious communities and social cohesion are part of daily life. Importantly, this side of the province is relatively free from violent groups.
Despite of this unique diversity, they envision the alliance as an expression of shared values. One is consultation or shura, as they believe in broader participation and ownership as a foundation to good governance. They have realized the importance of stewardship or khilafah, meaning leadership that serves and delivers. They embrace their diversity as expression of pluralism or ta’adudiyyah, inclusive yet different. And finally, to add spirituality to what is otherwise mundane, are compassion (rahmah) and justice (adalah), meaning, united by love of God and neighbors, being fair and equitable.
They share and express their common vision as follows, “Peaceful and prosperous Western Basilan founded on good governance and sustainable economy.” To achieve this vision, the goal of the alliance is to be the platform for consultation and development of mutual concerns and benefits. While the alliance is primarily horizontal, i.e. among the five municipalities; it is also vertical, maximizing cooperation and alignment with the provincial, regional and national agencies.
There are six focus areas – agriculture, fisheries, good governance, peace and security, critical services and ecotourism. The consultations have yielded a lot of ideas from stakeholders to inform and firm up their strategies and plans.
The alliance champions understand the task at hand is difficult. Still, they believe it is time for the Basilan municipalities to dream big. They are hopeful that the beginning of the alliance comes with the end of individualism that has made the province vulnerable to violence, exploitation and underdevelopment.
 Note: There will be a separate article explaining the WBA as a form of interlocal cooperation or inter-LGU alliance as defined by its vision-mission statement and strategic focus and proposed intervention.
 “Western Basilan Municipal Executives and CSO Partners Explore Alliance Building” – http://westernbasilan.blogspot.com/2018/01/western-basilan-municipal-executives.html