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Opinion. From firearms to farms

Mayor Rommel Arnado was credited for creating a program in Kauswagan called “From Arms to Farms.” This creative project was the outcome of President Erap’s “all-out war” in Mindanao in 2002 against the MILF rebels that brought the town of Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte down to its knees. The ANC featured a documentary made by the Galing Pook Foundation, the NGO that also gave an award to Mayor Arnado.

When Mayor Rommel Arnado arrived in Kauswagan after the attack, he saw Kauswagan as a “ghost municipality.” All he saw were soldiers but no opportunities. “Wherever you look, there is depression. Now we have declared ourselves as the most peaceful municipality in the whole Lanao del Norte. We no longer the barometer for violence, but for peace,” he said.

The Assisi Foundation under Ben Abadiano was the one that helped Kauswagan fund the irrigation systems of the hinterland agricultural areas of Kauswagan. This was followed by farm-to-market roads and livelihood projects. The Muslim community saw that the administration of Mayor Arnado was honest and committed to developing Kauswagan. The initial success led other NGOs and funding institutitons in enhancing the development of Kauswagan.

Dr. Eddie Dorotan, Executive Director, Galing Pook Foundation described Mayor Arnado’s “from arms to farms” formula, namely: The utilization of the people’s creativity and public participation towards change.

When Rommel Arnado became mayor, he vowed to eliminate the culture of violence and discrimination in Kauswagan. “In this administration we treated everybody the same.” It was in his administration where the Sustainable Integrated Kauswagan Area Development and Peace Agenda, or SIKAD PA, was formed, a roadmap for Kauswagan. It consisted of (1) sustainable agriculture, (2) food security, and (3) sustainable peace.

Adelino Rico, Municipal Agriculturist said that farming and fishing were disrupted after the armed conflict. “We created a masterplan and linked with national government agencies, knowing that Kauswagan could not make it on its own, alone.”

Organic farming was introduced and 100 organic farmers were trained. Dr Angelito Quirog offered his services to train farmers for the “Arms to Farms” program of Mayor Arnado. He was convinced in the peace and development plan of Kauswagan. The Agricultural Training Institute introduced the Diversified and Integrated Farming System. The 16-month training was held right in the farms of Kauswagan but was funded by the ATI.

The Arms to Farms Program included training in Organic Vegetable Farming, Livestock Farming, Organic Upland Rice, Organic Peanuts Production, Vermiculture Training, and Capability Building of Farmers that included value formation. Dr. Quirog brought the trainees to the learning sites of ATI in Bukidnon, known as exposure trip. Exposure trip increases the morale of the trainees who were demoralized as a result of war and poverty, according to Dr. Quirog.

Included in the exposure trip were rebel Kumanders Aga Dimakuta and Malik Macabato. ATI has trained the participants through the “learning by doing” approach. Lectures constitute 30%, and 70% hands-on, which attracted the Maranao rebels like Kumander Ismael Sarip who did not even completed his elementary education.

Kumander Aga attested to organic farming as the best since he saw it as a high yield type of farming. Kumander Malik said they have not used synthetic fertilizers anymore. Lt. Col. Manuel Hiadan, Jr., Executive Officer of the 15th Infantry Battalion in Kauswagan attested to the effectiveness of the Arms to Farms training program. It generated good relations between Christians and Muslims, rebels and the military and civilians and government officials.

Mayor Rommel says the military is the program’s implementing partner. Any MILF rebel or commander who may want to join the Arms to Farms Program would have to seek validation from the military before being accepted. “The concept of the Arms to Farms Program is no surrendering of firearms, but what you have to surrender is your heart,” remarked Mayor Arnado. The military delivers the donations for rebel-based Muslim communities and disseminates information and updates on the program.

Kumander Ismael never knew how to use the plow, since he was exposed only to using the gun as a rebel combatant. After his Arms to Farms training in Bukidnon, he was sent to Manila for a trainor’s training. He then organized his own farmers and taught them organic farming in their own Maranao dialect which was easily understood by his comrades.

Practical agriculture was the idea of Mayor Rommel and the demo farm was established in Kauswagan. About 300 rebel returnees are now becoming experts in organic farming and are earning high yields from various crops and from livestock production. Municipal Agriculturist Rico said it was the rebels who approached them and applied for training since they were convinced that the program was good.

Everyone saw that the municipal LGU treated everyone equally, fairly. Now other farmers in nearby towns want to be under the Arms to farms program. “We will expand this towards other municipalities because I know that they are just all their other relatives, because these people come in and out of Kauswagan. If we are only to address Kauswagan, it’s useless,” said Mayor Rommel. Now, bullets have been turned into seeds and guns into plows.

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