Story & Photos By ELMER RECUERDO
SILVINO LUBOS, Northern Samar – The scorching heat was barely blocked by her torn umbrella but it did not deter Gina, a 42-year-old grandmother, as she carried in her arms her two-year-old grandson to watch the program.

It was the inauguration and turn-over of Suba Bridge, the fifth and last phase of a project composed of a road network and three bridges that finally connected Silvino Lubos to the national highway in the neighboring town of Mondragon. The inauguration was held last Friday, 16 June.

The inauguration marked the completion of the P982.5M road project funded under the PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) Program that started in 2011 with an initial outlay of P225.5M.

Undersecretary Wilben Mayor, chief of staff at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU), said he believes the completion of the road project will bring peace and security which is the foundation for a sustainable development.
"The completion of the project is a manifestation of the government's sincerity to help improve the economic condition of the poor, especially those in most disadvantaged conflict areas," Mayor said.

Gina said the initial project implementation was met with skepticism by many residents who had been brainwashed to believe that their town had already been abandoned by the government.

"This is the dream of every one here. I thought I would never experience this in my lifetime," she said. "This gives us much hope and a sense of security that we will no longer be in fear that we will be attacked by the communist rebels."

Her two older siblings went to Manila in the 90s due to problems with communist insurgency. "They said there is no more hope for Silvino Lubos," she said. She added that her husband was also recruited to the New People's Army for almost a decade while she joined a peasant-women organization. Both of them surrendered to the government four years ago.

Gina watched with awe the passing motorcycles and cars on the road. "We never had this many vehicles and visitors here. There were very few people who would come here to celebrate fiesta with us," she said.
"I hope there will be more public transportation so we can bring our harvest to the market more often at a lower cost," she added.

Silvino Lobos is a landlocked municipality at the tri-boundary of the three Samar Island provinces. The 22,240 hectares area sits right at the heart of Samar Island National Park.

The town has been often referred to as "The Summer Capital of Northern Samar" or "The Little Baguio" because of its hilly terrain, cold climate and verdant mountains.
Northern Samar provincial agriculture has found the potential for growing high-value crops such as cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower and other cool climate thriving crops. However, the plan to grow these crops could not take off due to the absence of a road network and problems with the insurgency.

Silvino Lubos Mayor Leo Jarito says farmers are now dependent mostly on copra. "We used to produce abaca until the bunchy top pest destroyed everything," he said.
Farmers trade their copra in Pambujan town where they transport their product using a banca that ferries the Pambujan River.

"When the water is high, our farmers pay P2 per kilo of copra while passengers pay a fare of P250," Jarito said. "That's why we are happy that the road network is finally complete. For the first time, we can drive our vehicles on an all-paved road up to the national highway."

Northern Samar Governor Edwin Ongchuan said Silvino Lubos was once considered the poorest municipality in the whole country.

"But with the completion of the bridges that connect the town to the national highway, I am sure we are no longer among the poorest. We should already be in the higher category," he said.

A survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2018 pegged poverty incidence at 56.94%.

The high poverty incidence, coupled by its geographical location and absence of infrastructure and government service made the town a bastion of communist insurgency along with its neighboring municipalities of Matuguinao, Samar and Las Navas, Mondragon, San Roque, Lope de Vega and Catubig, Northern Samar.

Jarito recalled that at the height of the communist insurgency, the guerillas attacked the town in 1979 which forced the then town mayor to surrender to the NPAs after his house was surrounded by armed men.
However, he added, that since the start of the road construction insurgency in his town started to dwindle with their influence now limited to a few villages at the boundary of Matuguinao town.

The municipal board has passed a resolution submitted to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity for the possible funding for the construction of another road network that will link the said villages.

Jarito said the opening of the road network that connects to the national highway has renewed optimism of his constituents of improved economic conditions.

He said since the road construction, some enterprising residents have started developing tourism-related establishments that hoped to cater to increasing numbers of visitors when the road opens.

"We have just begun to take off," he said. (CJ/jmm/ER)

-, June 20, 2023

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