Hermogenes "Jun" Ebdane, Jr., former Philippine National Police head honcho and presently Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways must have thought he had a good thing going with the idea of plastering his face and that of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on colorful billboards placed along many of Surigao del Sur's national roads. Ebdane, who is expected to make a run for the Philippine Senate in next year's scheduled local and national elections, could not be faulted for this rather disingenuous if certainly not uncommon way of generating a little publicity for himself and, of course, the President as a result of the massive, on-going road concreting program that is expected to modernize land travel in this province. Countless other politicians, gunning for both local and national elective positions, have done the same thing before and had certainly gotten away with it.
Some groups in the province, however, as these pictures show, were not overly impressed with Ebdane's tour de force. Some of the obviously well designed, generously funded billboards were recently discovered to have been defaced with red paint by still unknown parties. From the nature and intention of the graffiti, however, the finger can obviously and logically be pointed to the communist New People's Army or its supporters although no official confirmation of that fact can be had at present.
A red X had been marked right over Ebdane's portrait in one billboard and the words "Oust GMA" have been hurriedly marked in the center. Similarly themed revolutionary slogans ("revolution is the solution to the crisis") have also been painted in bold red on the protective concrete side railings of some bridges in the San Agustin-Marihatag road section where most of the defaced billboards were also located.
It can be said that the graffiti on the billboards and the concrete bridge railings are connected to the what has been described as intensified operations being conducted by government military forces in the hinterlands of Lianga as previously reported in the last post to this blog. In fact, as this post is being written, evacuees have continued to stream into the municipal gymnasium in Lianga which has served as an evacuation center the past two weeks for those fleeing from the conflict zone. More than 70 families have been reported to have sought refuge there already and the local municipal government is now hard pressed to provide the evacuees with the necessary food and medical assistance they need.
Living conditions at the gymnasium building, according to local town officials, have deteriorated because sanitation facilities there have been unable to cope with the sudden mass influx of evacuees. The municipal government is also fast running out of resources needed to address even their basic food and health needs. Town officials with Mayor Roy Sarmen have been desperately trying to broker mediation talks between local military officials and the evacuees for the purpose of defusing the tension and encouraging a return of the residents to their homes but no progress has yet been made in the talks.
The local military command has cried foul and considers the mass evacuation as unjustified and uncalled for. Their forces, according to them, are merely conducting routine development studies and related research in the affected mountain villages. They have described the mass exodus of people to the Lianga gymnasium as the handiwork of leftist organizations sympathetic to the NPA units operating in the province and these groups, military spokesmen say, are waging essentially a propaganda war against government troops who are again being unfairly accused of human rights violations and the forced militarization of the rural countryside.
As the charges and counter-charges fly back and forth, Ebdane and the rest of the Cabinet under the President can, at least, be relieved that, so far, the attacks on the billboards and the bridge railings have been largely symbolic and, thus, limited to harmless defacement and graffiti. But, as a local resident, I am one among many who are more than a bit worried about the recent sharp escalation of tensions between government forces and local insurgents.
Nothing good can come out of a prolonged deterioration of the peace and order situation in Lianga and its province. This happens to one situation that local residents here have been through many times in the past and they know by dint of hard experience that without exception, the aftermath of any resumption of sustained hostilities between government forces and rebel insurgents has always resulted in steep social, political and economic costs that the local communities could no longer continue or afford to pay much less contemplate.