President Arroyo (PGMA), in her recent Bohol visit, lauded again the provincial government as a model for local efforts to reduce poverty and promote peace. Ironically, this declaration was set against a background of a series of robbery cases, unsolved political killings, and undocumented violence across the province. This recognition of Bohol, however, is not a recent phenomenon. Two years ago, the Galing Pook Foundation awarded the Bohol Poverty Reduction, Peace and Development Program as one of the best practices in local governance in the country in trying to promote peace, through poverty alleviation and development (GPF 2006).
Poverty alleviation programs in Bohol started started out as an anti-insurgency solution rather than a design to achieve poverty reduction. As a matter of fact, one of the first maps related to the province’s poverty reduction efforts was an insurgency map which became the basis of the targeting of provincial poverty programs. Barangays were classified as influenced (where 50% or more of the inhabitants support the rebel cause and where local legal organizations are formed to support the armed groups), infiltrated (where at least 25% support the cause and where local leaders were recruited), and threatened (where there were sightings of armed rebels noted but the area only served as passage to other villages) (PPDO 2003).
Initially, the poverty reduction program sought to address poverty condition of 20 towns of the province where insurgency was most pronounced . This was grounded on the assumption that poverty was the primary reason why people joined the New People’s Army, the country’s primary Communist rebel group. Poverty reduction then, was considered an anti-insurgency policy made a primary concern of the Provincial Peace and Order Council and was undertaken in close partnership with the military.
A closer scrutiny of the data, however, will reveal a handful of things. First, the assumptions of the initial impetus for poverty reduction programs in the province need not necessarily be true. Comparing data on insurgency and deprivation for example, one can conclude that not all areas where poverty incidence was high were affected by insurgency (eg. CPGarcia, the island municipality was not identified an insurgency area, but is the poorest municipality in the island), and not all areas where insurgency was high, had high poverty incidence (eg. Batuan was reported as very high in insurgency but was not one of the ten poorest municipalities of the province). Second, it is apparent that most municipalities which had high poverty incidence or levels of deprivation are in the municipalities in the 2nd and 3rd Districts. Third, poverty incidence is higher the farther the town is from the capital city of Tagbilaran.
A further analysis of available data would tell us that the same municipalities remain poor over a three year period, from 2001 to 2004 (PPDO 2006). For example, CP Garcia is still the poorest municipality. Conversely, the same areas were reported as better off over 2001 to 2004, more particularly Tagbilaran City and its adjoining municipalities. If indeed, something has been done to reduce poverty, then the lower bottom rung could have improved over this period. Thus, there is a high degree of probability that improvements in poverty condition in the province, as provided by provincial aggregate statistics, are caused not by improvements in the life of people in the bottom rung, but by improvements in the lives of those who were already better off.
The recent capture of young men who claimed responsibility over the series of robberries in the city tells us something about the things hypothesized above. Majority of the robbers, including its alleged leader Garcia, are from Talibon, a town 109 kilometers from Tagbilaran. Talibon is one of the twenty poorest towns in the province in both National Statistics Coordinating Board (2003) and Peace and Equity Foundation (2005) rankings. Both common sense and development literature will tell us that poverty is one of the primary reasons for intentional appropriation of somebody else's private goods.
Peace is not just about the presence or absence of insurgency and it is not only about what is enjoyed by the majority, but also by that of the oftentimes voiceless minority. On the other hand, development is not just about airports, roads, bridges, and irrigation or about agricultural inputs, research studies, and presence of NGO projects in communities. Peace is not all about silence, as development is not all about the buzz.
I believe, this is where PGMA, and Galing Pook for that matter, erred tremendously.