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Decades of lost opportunities


Many of aging generation who grew up in Mindanao have at one time or another visited and saw the pristine landscape of Sulu and Basilan and the dynamism of the development of the cities of Cotabato and  Zamboanga.

Zamboanga City is a bustling destination for domestic and foreign tourists and it was not surprising then that cruise ships would drop anchor in the calm and azure waters of Sulu Sea.

Tourists would then go by tenders to Lantaka where they are serenaded by troubadours as they imbibe the cases of San Miguel Pale Pilsen. They too are awed by the beautiful and colorful ethnic dances and they laugh along with the naked kids in the tiny bancas who would dive for the coins which the guests generously toss into the deep but clear waters fronting the Lantaka. The fishermen’s boats in fascinating kaleidoscopic masts were a site to behold as they sail out to the sea. Further, across the blue waters, the white sands of Sta. Cruz Island near Basilan, can still be seen from Lantaka. Some of the tourists opted to take a deep in the cool waters of Sulu sea that and bath in the fine sands of the island.  Now and then, the  panoramic view of Basilan is disappears from the horizon as bigger fishing bancas and inter-island passenger boats from Sulu and ships from Luzon, Visayas and elsewhere arrive and dock in a nearby port. Products from the nearby islands are unloaded without any let-up. Passengers embark and disembark each wearing a smile.

Cotabato City was a vibrant metropolis. Muslims and Christian traders were proliferating. Products that are sold in major cities in the country were readily available in the bustling community were Muslims and Christians co-mingle, partners and intermarriages among them were not a rarity.     Cotabato City is the center of commerce and communication and education in Central Mindanao. Farmers and traders from all over undivided province of Cotabato and the adjacent Lanao buy their farm implements, agricultural inputs in the city.

It is a place where to shop and eat in fine restaurants. Christian and Muslim youth enjoy the equal privileges and access to study in Notre Dame University regardless of religion. People who are sick and in need of major medical interventions would refer to hospitals in Cotabato City.

The prospects of a brighter future were all within reach in the islands of Jolo and Basilan and in the cities of Zamboanga and Cotabato. In time the promise of prosperity was all within the realm of pulsating realities.

The emergence of the separatist fronts however extinguished all the hopes and the aspirations of the people who dwelled and did business in these places. Those who have nothing to do at all with the struggle were uprooted from their homes and farms. The youths, which today would have their own decent source of livelihood and education to help them compete with others for opportunities that are available have been deprived of their future.

As if the futile struggle for an independent Moro Land is not enough, for not even autonomy would suffice, the people of Central and Western Mindanao have to contend with the menace of Al Qaeda sponsored terrorist organizations like Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf Guerillas. And then come the emergence of kidnap-for-ransom syndicates who operate in the region with impunity and viciousness for they can always seek refuge in territories held by the secessionist fronts.

While talks for peace and reconciliation drag to seeming eternity, the terrorists have their heyday planting improvised explosive devices victimizing Muslims, Christians and Lumads alike and killing mostly helpless civilians in the process.

There are many casualties lost in this secessionist insanity and struggle for independence but the biggest loss is the opportunity of the towns and cities in the many areas of conflict to revive their dynamism and the capacity to compete, to grow, to develop and enjoy the fruits of peace, unity amidst diversity of our unique culture and brotherhood. 

By Menardo Wenceslao

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