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Roads To Progress And Peace
Malabang, Philippines—Despite abundant natural resources, the southern Philippine island of Mindanao was neglected for decades. Years of internal strife stunted development and pushed many of Mindanao's people to the margins. But new roads and bridges are bringing renewed prosperity to this troubled region.
Ten years ago, the nearly 1,000 people who live in the village of Malabang rarely encountered motor vehicles along the almost-impassable dirt road linking their neighborhood to the town center.
But things have changed for this village, which sits upland from the town of Hagonoy in the province of Davao del Sur. The government completed a bridge over the treacherous Bulatukan River in 2002, and a new farm-to-market road in 2004 - both supported by ADB.
Malabang's residents used to trek for more than two hours to reach the town market only eight kilometers away. Travelers started out on a bicycle with an improvised cart, then crossed the Bulatukan River on a bamboo raft, and once on the other side, took a motorcycle to the market, where they bought goods to meet their daily needs.
Greater Connectivity, More Prosperity
Today, because of the farm-to-market road financed by ADB's Agrarian Reform Communities Project, people in Malabang can drive farm harvests to market in trucks, and return with daily basic supplies to sell to neighborhood stores.
"Instead of us going to town to replenish our stocks, I now buy my stocks from traders who come here twice a week to sell their products," said Lourdes Babor, 43, who sells canned goods, instant noodles, and bath products in her retail store. "This way, we save on our transport costs."
Before the new bridge, farmers used river crafts to transport their produce across the Bulatukan River. The river would become impassable during heavy rains, and farmers had to take a roundabout route - taking two or even three times as long to complete their journey.
These days, not only can farmers get their goods to market easily; the road and bridge have encouraged big and small businesses to flock to Malabang because of its fertile farmland. These businesses are contracting local people to plant bananas, sugar cane, and rice in nearby farms.
"Our livelihood has become better. Those without jobs before are now employed by the businesses here," said Primitiva Cablinda, 55. She added that many young people now earn 280 pesos (about US$6) per day plus benefits. This is a sizeable addition to income in poor families in this region, enabling some to save or invest in new ventures.
Like many of her neighbors, Cablinda has used the savings from her extra earnings to start a small piggery behind her house.
Driving Away Danger
Before the roads, residents also lived in fear of rebels toting ArmaLite weapons, who roamed the mountains, and extorted money and produce from farmers. In the 1980s, rebels attacked the house of an "uncooperative farmer." Fortunately, nobody was hurt. In 2000, they gunned down a neighborhood security patrol during a local festivity.
"It was not safe at all. They were extorting money, especially in the more remote part of the [village]," said Cablinda, who grew up in the area and now serves as the secretary in the local council. "Many people transferred out of the community."
As a result of the new road, police can reach the people in Malabang more frequently and with greater ease.
"Nowadays, we have the full support of the local government. Police can easily respond to any disturbance in the area," Cablinda said.
Success in Semong
The village of Semong, in another province of Mindanao, faced the same challenges that plagued Malabang.
In 2007, the Infrastructure for Rural Productivity Enhancement Sector Project (InFRES) funded the construction of a 9.785 kilometer road and a 54.00 meter bridge. Now upland Semong is easily accessible to traders and investors alike.
Charlie de Vera, 33, is building a bigger house for himself and his wife. He attributes his new prosperity to the farm-to-market road which has reduced transport costs for his produce and increased the selling price for his rice and banana harvests.
"We used to pay 40 peso (about 85 cents) per sack to (get our produce) to the market. Now, it's the trader who comes to our (community) to buy our harvest," de Vera said.
According to Eugene Timplado, a buying agent for a multinational fruit company, farmers in Semong can now sell at higher rates since many buyers are competing for their harvest.
Roads to Progress and Peace
Farm-to-market roads not only link farmers to buyers, but they also bring opportunities and hope to the once-neglected towns. After roads are established, other services usually follow. Health and education services and business opportunities become more accessible.
For children, their schools are easier to reach. Charleston Mainit, 12, used to trudge by bicycle along muddy trails for an hour to get to school. But thanks to a new ADB-supported road in his neighborhood, Charleston can ride there in just 15 minutes. "Children are more excited to go to school," said Nestor Alcoran, mayor of New Corolla in the Davao del Norte province, on the impact of the new road. "They don't have to walk very far."
And Mayor Franco Magno Calida of the Hagonoy municipality said of Malabang: "It used to be a sleepy and poor town. But now, they have good living standards. People live more harmoniously with each other. There's less criminality. Overall, the town now has development, progress, and peace."