The first thing a mayor should be able to do is to identify the problem of the place he has to run and to articulate how he will go about solving it. Only then will he be effective.

The humble municipality of Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte has come a long way from being a hotbed of the Moro insurgency and mired in poverty to being an internationally acclaimed beacon of peace and prosperity. At the helm of this transformation is Mayor Rommel C. Arnado, achieving this though strong political will and consultative governance.

Born and raised in Kauswagan, Mayor Arnado was disheartened upon returning from the United States in 2008 when he saw his beloved hometown in a dismal state. The scars of heavy fighting between insurgents and government forces—among them burnt houses and other damaged structures—were clearly visible. He then vowed to help his impoverished municipality recover and sought the mayoralty post. Since his 2010 victory and subsequent landslide reelections, he has tirelessly focused on providing new skills and looking for better livelihood opportunities to improve the living conditions of his constituents.

“The first thing a mayor should be able to do is to identify the problem of the place he has to run and to articulate how he will go about solving it. Only then will he be effective,” shares Mayor Arnado. He believes that the passion to help, although a prerequisite for public service, is not enough to effect positive change. Instead, it should be tempered with critical analysis in eradicating problems. He asserts that the root cause of their problems was not really the lack of peace and order, but hunger and poverty due to the lack of empowerment and capacity and the cultural biases and discrimination faced by Muslims.


PLANTING THE SEEDS OF PEACE
In order to address hunger and poverty, the good mayor championed the initiative called “From Arms to Farms: Walking Through the Paths of Peace.” This was achieved through consultation and convergence with non-governmental organizations and people’s organizations through the Assisi Foundation, and later supported by the Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Training Institute.

The Arms to Farms program covers all the efforts to develop and capacitate former rebels through organic farming and all those who are open to make it as their livelihood by not only subsidizing their cropping, but also helping them through all the facets needed for their farming, fisheries, and livestock ventures to be successful. The local government provides aid by giving farms access to irrigation and fertilize, building good and passable roads, and ensuring the market for their produce.

Mayor Arnado is not obliging the people to surrender their firearms, as he believes it will only hinder the revolutionaries from reaching out. But as proof to the program’s efficacy, former Moro commanders and their followers have since laid down their arms and embraced entrepreneurial farming. They now yield-high value crops ranging from upland rice to varied fruits and vegetables. From firearms, which have tainted the land red of bloodshed and death, former combatants now wield plows and seeds, revitalizing and coloring the town into a literal greener pasture with ripe and bountiful opportunities.

The most important thing in security is to be friends with your enemies. We have to realize that Christians and Muslims are both victims. Both sides have suffered a lot.

The approach has proven very successful as rebels were assimilated back into society as productive citizens. Where there was once hopelessness, the victims of war have been empowered and capacitated, enabling them to thrive. Ultimately, poverty incidence in the municipality has significantly decreased through the years—from an abysmal 79.7% in 2010, to an improving 40% in 2014, and to the commendable 9% at present.

Thus, it is no surprise that the program has been recognized not only domestically but globally as well. It won the National Gawad Galing Pook Award in 2014 for its exemplary performance in promoting peace and development. At the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders in 2016, it garnered the first Bogota Peace Prize, besting other finalists from Brazil, Colombia, and Congo, for addressing the symptoms of violent conflict toward socio-economic development. It also received Honorable Mention for the Future Policy Award in 2018 from the World Future Council for having one of the world’s best laws and policies for promoting agro-ecology and sustainable food systems.

SUSTAINED PEACE AND SECURITY
“The most important thing in security is to be friends with your enemies. We have to realize that Christians and Muslims are both victims. Both sides have suffered a lot,” the local chief executive points out. Clearly, he’s not apportioning blame but instead promoting a more understanding mentality to both sides. He recalls that one of the biggest challenges was reestablishing trust in the government. After all, there have been decades of unsuccessful negotiations and empty promises by previous administrations.

Mayor Arnaldo resuscitated the confidence of the rebels in the government by adhering to his promises and showing them sincerity and steadfastness as a leader. He showed them a government that will continually try to help and never abandon its citizens by providing them basic and fundamental services. With effective organization and systematic implementation, communities and barangays were encouraged to identify their own problems and needs, and guided in resolving their own conflicts. Through a consultative style of governance, wherein even the smallest of voices are heard and given importance, mutual and harmonious participation is engendered between Muslims and Christians. The ultimate result is the erosion of the culture of bias and discrimination which has plagued the land for decades.

Mayor Arnado even proudly shares that four of his five superstar farmers are former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders who have embraced his advocacy for peace and abandoned their extremist ideology. He has indeed vanquished his enemies by turning them into friends and allies. In turn, they will safeguard their newfound way of life and protect it from possible threats.

A BRIGHT FUTURE AHEAD
Another testament to Kauswagan’s newfound peace and prosperity is the influx of investors and large companies expanding their businesses in Kauswagan. A prime example is the construction of a power conglomerate’s coal combustion thermal plant with a target initial capacity of 450 MW to meet the growing demand for power accompanying the economic development in Mindanao. This will further bolster and stabilize the economy of the municipality through wider job opportunities and additional revenue.

Agricultural efforts are now geared toward the mechanization phase by opening new farm zones with mechanized operations from seeding, harvesting, and processing. The mayor has partnered with South Korea and machine manufacturers in advancing the development of agriculture through farm mechanization. With success even through current manual operations, Mayor Arnado is very confident that mechanization will only further improve their output.

Mayor Arnado is now working to institutionalize his town’s successful governance framework in order to ensure its continuity. War-stricken areas from all over the nation and the world would do well to replicate the efforts and success of Kauswagan, from being a war-ravaged and impoverished town to a place where Muslims and Christians live in cooperative harmony and a thriving agricultural economy. This only validates that farming can be used as a tool for peace. If people are given sound opportunities and poverty is alleviated, sustainable peace can be achieved. — MARCO NICANOR

Mayor Arnado even proudly shares that four of his five superstar farmers are former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders who have embraced his advocacy for peace and abandoned their extremist ideology. He has indeed vanquished his enemies by turning them into friends and allies. In turn, they will safeguard their newfound way of life and protect it from possible threats.

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