To say that the conflict situation in Northern Mindanao is the cause of poverty in the region, especially in Lanao del Norte is an understatement. There is more to the problem of poverty in the region than the existing rift between the Maranaos and the Christians. What is bringing about the problem is more likely the status quo that both groups will never co-exist and live in harmony, and that the problem will persist because of the different stories to the situation.

This may be true and will always be true if not for the inaction of those directly affected.  If the people in the region lose all hope of having a more peaceful and harmonious relationship with those they share almost everything with, then the next generations will suffer the hardest. But believers fend off what skeptics strongly consider inevitable. Believers still hope that the problem will only become a thing of the past.  Believers hold on to a dream that one day, everyone will live in harmony and that religion or race will not be the determining factor for partnership and solidarity among communities in the region.

This dream is what the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA Pillar 2) Program brings to the equation. The national government’s program and framework for peace and development which is implemented in areas affected by conflict and communities covered by existing peace agreements is now in partnership with Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan – Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services(Kalahi-CIDSS). Now, the government can push on the delivery of basic needs to municipalities and communities affected by armed conflict in the region.

Mateo R. Benitez Sr., a volunteer for the program shares his stories of hardship, uncertainties and hope.  Stories of the endeavors he had volunteering for the Kalahi-CIDSS (PAMANA) project.


Manong Mateo is a resident of Barangay Libertad, Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte.  A retired Armed Force of the Philippines combatant, he has had his share of being in the forefront of battle, especially in areas in Mindanao facing armed insurgents said to be one of the causes in the on-going problem of conflict in Lanao del Norte.  Having been retired, he now spends his time doing backyard farming, something he says he does well.

Barangay Libertad is among the few barangays in Kauswagan right along the highway, the first barangay after the municipality of Linamon, LDN.  The community is composed of 90% Christian settlers and only 10% are Maranao.  With the implementation of PAMANA in the area, Manong Mateo, having to have a lot of free time, volunteered for the project and ended up being named as the Project Implementation Team Chair, something he felt uncomfortable in being part of, but still managed to be part of.

FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE (Shared by Mr. Mateo R. Benitez)

Ever since I was a young gentleman, it has always been this way.  There was always that gap between Muslims and Christians.  I remembered when I was serving in the Armed Forces before; it was hell for us when war broke out here in areas in Mindanao, especially Lanao.  It has always been the civilians who are caught off-guard and suffer a lot on these conflicts.  They say it started when Christians started stealing lands from fleeing Muslims evacuating war-torn communities in Lanao.  They said that Christian families who were well-off started titling lands and massive land grabbing left out Muslims squatting on lands they supposed to own before.

If you ask a Christian, he would definitely say they have acquired land through their ancestors or bought it from the true owners. For Muslims/Maranaos, they would definitely claim they owned vast lands in the region only to be stolen from them by educated Christians waving in their faces land titles they do not even know existed.

This is why there are certain barangays or sitios in municipalities in Lanao del Norte that has a bulk of its settlers either Christians or Maranaos.  It is hard to mix them up.  There would definitely be constant quarrelling and violence because of the history of conflict between the two. Even the new generation develops a certain sense of prejudice against one another.  There is that sense of urgency that if we would do nothing about it, this will forever haunt the generations to come.


When PAMANA started out in Kauswagan, we didn’t have any idea what the project was.  We have DILG-led PAMANA and KC PAMANA but both started almost at the same time so we did not have means to gather that much data on how it worked, not until we had our orientation. But what amazed us was the KC PAMANA. It was the first time for a government funded program I have encountered that the community was the one choosing the project to be funded.  Then and there I knew this was going to be a good program for the people of Brgy. Libertad.

For years, our barangay has been suffering from the lack of a good source for potable water. During the Participatory Situational Analysis, hands down, water was the biggest problem for our community.  This prompted everyone to do their best so that our dreams of having water in our barangay would definitely come true. We have had plans of having water system projects before but our biggest problem was that the sources were too far and too dangerous.  It had to pass through Muslim areas, and for a Christian community to benefit from anything from Maranao territory, this was as close to impossible.

We had Php 300,000 pesos for our sub-project – the funding for KC-PAMANA per barangay. For a water system project, this was insufficient. We were told that a water system project would cost more or less a million pesos, and this would depend on how far the water source would be.  With the help of our Kalahi-CIDSS Area Coordinating Team (ACT), we looked for ways to achieve our long awaited opportunity of having potable water in our households.

We had a bit of progress when another neighboring barangay, Brgy. Tacub, also planned of having a potable water system sub-project. This was beneficial for the both of the barangays since we could share funds to spend on looking for a source and after working on the site for the source, just split the lines for both of our barangays later on.  Php 600,000 is way better than Php 300,000.

Another progress for the sub-project was when DILG allowed the use of the DILG-led PAMANA project funds to be merged with the KC-PAMANA funding.  Add to the mix a grant from ASISI Foundation, a Non-Government Organization aiding water system projects in the province and counterpart from the Local Government Unit and the Barangay LGU.  Barangay Libertad and Barangay Tacub now have more than 2 million pesos to fund our water system sub-project.

But amidst these progresses, one thing still hindered the implementation of the sub-project.  We had no source for our water system. No one would dare cross Maranao territory for we all know that this is still a delicate issue since all of us know that the conflict in the area started with territorial disputes.  But Kalahi-CIDSS magic sparked something that all of us never imagined of happening.  During one of the meetings the ACT held attended by Brgy. Captains, Barangay Sub-Project Management Committees, Municipal Inter-Agency Committee and members of the Sanguniang Bayan, problems of each barangay implementing the KC-PAMANA were discussed. Ms. Teofreda Dingal, KC-PAMANA Area Coordinator explained to everyone that even though different barangays were working on different sub-projects, the purpose of having these sub-projects were not just necessarily  to unite people within the community but to unite different communities and barangays.  She said that the aim for the program is to unite everyone in the municipality of Kauswagan, a step at healing wounds brought about by the long struggle of the people of Lanao del Norte in dealing with conflicts of indifference.

When it was time to share our problems, without hesitations, Brgy. Chairman Paruk Panalondong offered to share their resources and allow our barangays to have our source at Sitio Kudal, Brgy. Barason, offering our volunteers safety in their area and also promised us help in working for the sub-project.  We were all astonished to hear this. Indeed, everyone in the room felt the sincerity of all parties after realizing how important the KC-PAMANA project was for the communities in Kauswagan. What we witnessed that day was the start of the process of healing wounds brought about by years of conflict.


Even though we had more than 2 million pesos to fund our potable water system for two barangays, the construction of the reservoir and the distance of the source to our barangays (10 Kms) ate up almost all of our funds.  We decided that everyone from Barangay Libertad and Tacub would do “pahina” (some form of Bayanihan or volunteer work) so we had scheduled volunteers to work on the reservoir and in putting into place the large water pipes from the source to our doorsteps.

We worked from Sunday to Saturday, eight hours a day, for two weeks.  We fought the heat of the sun and the harsh rain, but no one dared giving up.  What drove us to finish our sub-project on time was the determination for our barangays to have potable water the soonest.  We were also touched by the gesture of Maranao residents in the areas we passed through helping us dig holes to place the water pipes and even provided us water to drink.  Indeed, what Chairman Panalondong promised us was fulfilled.  We really saw the effects of KC-PAMANA working as we worked our way towards our barangays, inching closer and closer ate the prize that awaits us at the finish line.

In the end, we had our water.  Something most off us only dreamt of in the past.  But what KC-PAMANA has given us is much more than potable water in our households.  It has given us hope that one day, the conflict situation that has hounded us for years will soon come to an end. Soon, race or religion will no longer be a hindrance for peace and unity but an important tool to unite all of the communities in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte.  Soon, the stories we will tell our children are no longer the stories of division and conflict but stories of success. Stories of how we have overcame our differences for the sake of our future and for progress.

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September 2021