CARAGA, DAVAO ORIENTAL – For the hinterland villagers of Sitio Butay, one of the most remote villages here, it is the most memorable day for this geographically isolated “roadless” village to see a deluge of public servants swooping on their place bringing with them never-before-seen services that the government gifted their village which was once a symbol of government neglect.
Traveling on foot, the team comprising of about 100 personnel from different provincial government offices along with members of the security forces wound through the seemingly untrodden forest, treacherous terrains, and dangerous mountain trails for around eight hours before reaching the secluded sitio.
Not minding the perils and fatigue, the team which was sent by the provincial government, was on a mission to reach out to this isolated settlement to deliver the government’s message of peace and to let them know that they are not forgotten no matter how hard it is to reach them.
Sitio Butay, one of the 13 sub-villages comprising the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title-01, is the farthest sitio in the municipality of Caraga. Nestled on top of a mountain in Barangay Pichon, the sitio is cut off from the rest of the CADT community by the rapids of the Caraga River on one side and the dense forest of Bantao on the other. Both trails leading to the sitio are filled with steep and dangerous slopes which serve as the villagers’ only path to the main community.
Home to about 120 families, Sitio Butay has no road, leaving residents, whose main livelihood is selling abaca fiber, forced to walk hours through unsafe mountain trails. Residents here as young as eight years old would walk 6 kilometers while carrying a heavy load of stripped abaca fibers which they sell at the village.
During the team’s recent visit, villagers not only received goods and services but also welcomed the joyful news that they have all been longing for in years – the much-awaited road opening project leading to their sitio which is poised to change their lives for the better.
A group of engineers from the province inspected the trail for the proposed road opening from Sitio Maglahos in the adjacent village of PM Sobrecarey going to Sitio Butay. While the provincial government aims to immediately start the project within the year, the engineering team vowed to fast track the completion of all documentary requirements such as the Road Right of Way and Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) which will signal the start of the project.
Set to be funded by the provincial government, the road opening project has been placed as a top priority by Davao Oriental Governor Nelson Dayanghirang who has vowed to expedite the project which he describes as urgent and long-overdue.
Residents here, who have endured many years without a proper road, say this project will certainly provide them respite as it will become easy for them to ferry people, especially during emergencies, and transport their abaca produce down to the village.
Also, with the promised road, locals say they will be able to plant a variety of crops such as vegetables that they can sell in the village. As of now, residents only plant crops for their own consumption since it is difficult for them to transport crops to the market.
Free Goods and Services
Aside from the upcoming road project, the team also provided scores of services provided by selected offices through a pocket service caravan.
Among the highlight services offered was the “Operation Tuli” facilitated by the medical team from the 701st Kagitingan Brigade of the Philippine Army. A total of 15 young boys ages 6-15 were offered free circumcision.
Purita Tanding, a mother of seven, including one who availed of the free service, said she is grateful for free operation as it helped her save money which otherwise would have been spent for the procedure and traveling expenses had she taken her son to the town center. “I saved around P2,000 including the fare. That amount is already a big sum for us,” she said.
Social services were also delivered by the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office which include distribution of cash assistance of P1,000 to 39 senior citizens, sports equipment for the youth, assistive devices for Persons with Disability (PWD), and family food packs.
The Provincial Veterinarian’s Office turned over one head of male swine and four heads of goat. Providing these animals will prevent interbreeding of the local livestock which has become a problem in the community. Also provided were free medicines, vitamins, deworming, and antibiotics for their livestock.
The Provincial Agriculture Office and the Environment and Natural Resources Office, meanwhile, provided seeds and planting materials such as falcata seeds and vegetable seeds.
Aside from providing emergency rescue for the team, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office conducted an advocacy campaign for disaster preparedness. The Philippine National Police, meanwhile, offered free haircut and hot meals for the residents.
Moreover, the Governor’s son, Senior Board Member Nelson Dayanghirang Jr., handed over a printer and printing materials for the Butay Integrated School to help learners here for their upcoming modular classes. School Principal Pablo Banabal gratefully received the equipment and the materials.
Mr. Banabal, who has been teaching in Sitio Butay for 14 years, said that seeing the team’s presence has boosted the residents’ trust and confidence to the government.
Manuel Tanding, a Limpong (elder) of the sitio, said he is forever grateful to the provincial government for giving attention to his community which for years was seemingly out of reach by the government’s aid.
A Peace Effort
Team leader and Provincial Administrator Art Benjie Bulaong said that the conduct of a pocket caravan in Sitio Butay is part of the Governor’s peace and order program which prioritizes far-flung areas for government projects and services. He says the provincial government pays special attention to the Indigenous Peoples communities which are vulnerable not only to poverty but also to the exploitation and abuses by the Communist-Terrorist armed group.
Putting a premium on social services, the pocket caravan is also anchored on the President’s Executive Order 70 or the Whole-of-Nation Approach to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
Lieutenant Colonel Roman Mabborang, Commander of the 66th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, lauded Sitio Butay for showing a huge improvement in terms of peace and order. He attributed this to the organized local IP leaders. “It is important that we have only one direction. Once the IP leaders are organized, the enemies will find it difficult to recruit and organize. So, let’s continue to be unified,” he said, adding that it is also crucial for the government to continue engaging with them and involving them in its development programs.
While assuring the community of the army’s support, particularly in securing the upcoming road opening project, Lt. Col. Maborang along with his partners in the police forces asked the community’s support and active participation by providing crucial information involving threats to peace.
The activity was capped with the grateful residents of Sitio Butay bidding farewell to the team who has sparked new hope for their small community.
For the team, who journeyed another eight hours to the next sitio where the nearest road is, the dangers and sacrifices they had endured are dwarfed by the humility and gratitude they felt for having the privilege of serving the people of Sitio Butay. To the team, who left Sitio Butay in high spirits, being in a privileged position to share and provide free service is a miracle and a gift not to be taken for granted. By Karen Lou Deloso \ Photos by Eden Jhan Licayan and Karen Lou Deloso