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Zone 2-B

Rhona Canoy .

SO… There has been so much chatter over ownership of the Spratleys and Scarborough. Serious conversations, social media rants, symposia — all focused on boundary issues. I suppose where territory is being contested over potentially money-making areas, the argument has value. But when all that are affected are a small bunch of people who are barely eking out a living, and the only thing they have which is negotiable are their votes, does a border dispute matter?

The reason I am raising this question is because, during my travels to areas of our city which most people have never and will never see, I came across such a purgatory. And if I don’t talk about it, all of you who follow this column will remain ignorant of something which should matter. I want to talk about Zone 2-B of Barangay San Simon. Have you heard of it? Have you ever heard of or been to San Simon? And after reading this column, will it matter to you?

Zone 2-B of Barangay San Simon is a God-forsaken place up in the hinterlands of our city. They have no water, which forces the residents to walk about an hour to the nearest water source, or ride a habal (if they have enough money for fare). All this while carrying their water containers which will weigh much more once they are filled, making the trudge home more tortuous. They at least have power, thanks to Moresco I, since Cepalco does not consider it profitable enough to extend their services to that area.

For the past three years, most of my columns have been written in a light-hearted prose, although the topics I chose to write about have been and remain serious matters for discussion. But after this most recent elections, I have found that conditions which were already pre-existing in 2016 (when I also ran for the city council) in our hinterland far-flung areas have not changed much at all, except for maybe more children. And it pains me that it is easy for us city folk to be blissfully ignorant of the insufferable conditions under which many of our fellow Cagayanons live.

Zone 2-B lies in the gray area which can either be Barangay San Simon, Cagayan de Oro City or its other name of Sitio Calacala, Barangay Bagocboc, Municipality of Opol. Even I am a bit confused as to where this area belongs because it depends on who is talking about it. Services never reach Zone 2-B/Calacala because neither barangay wants to waste resources on someplace they are not sure belongs to their geopolitical domain. So they are never visited by barangay health workers, no schools are being proposed there, and whenever they go to San Simon Barangay Hall for something they need, they rarely get attended to.

To give you some idea of where this place is, it is about 40 minutes by car past the Canito-an crossing where the road to SM lies, going by the Bulua road. Or about 25 minutes further past Barangay Pagatpat on that same road. Assuming, of course, that you have ever been there. A lot of the road has been concreted although not all of it, in spite of what our mayor has claimed about the hinterland roads. And concreting of the road to Zone 2-B ends where the city feels is the boundary where Barangay San Simon ends, as well as the City of Cagayan de Oro. Beyond that concreted portion is what is considered the Municipality of Opol of the province of Misamis Oriental.

And yet San Simon has given the little settlement the geopolitical designation of Zone 2-B, which implies some sort of inclusion. And the people who live there get noticed when barangay elections come around, because there are enough votes there to make or break the chairmanship. So barangay candidates will troop up there to campaign, promising all sorts of things, and treating residents with “kindness and compassion.” According to Teddy Lattar, the zone leader, they have never seen city officials there whether to visit or, worse, to campaign in at least 20 years.

But those people go down to vote in San Simon Elementary School. They even have a precinct dedicated to Zone 2-B. It costs them P20 each way on the habal, or about an hour on foot to get there just to cast their ballots. So every time there is an election they are remembered. I can’t say I know what that means. I do know how difficult it can be for the folks who live there. Most of the men go down into the valley to plant corn or vegetables. Some others come into town to work as manual laborers, and a very privileged few work as lowly clerks in some offices.

I can’t understand why settling the issue of borderline seems so impossible or insignificant. Because it isn’t. For now, there is a community who, depending on how you look at it, are not being attended to by their barangay government unit or (worse) by the City of Cagayan de Oro. Depending on how you look at it, if they are indeed residents of the Municipality of Opol then the whole lot of them could be accused of being flying voters, since they would then only be crossing over into Cagayan de Oro to cast their votes.

If, by some twist of fate, these selfsame people were millionaires and where they paid their taxes mattered, then I’m sure this would have been resolved long ago and both the city and Opol would even have fought over who Zone 2-B belongs to. But alas, it is not the case. So they remain in that grey, undefined geopolitical hell that they are in — and will probably stay that way for God alone knows how long.

The community and I have started a small water supply project up there, my third in the last three years. And it looks like it won’t be my last. It doesn’t cost much, and the kindness of helpful people willing to pitch in can’t be mentioned enough. People who I know have never been to any of these places, and who certainly only heard about them when I came to their doorstep to beg. To meet the needs of one little community, primitive though the water system may be, certainly costs much less than a 10-day travel junket for 10 city hall people to attend a one-week seminar in Manila. And yet its impact is life-changing for them. There, I’ve finally put it out there in print for all to read. I certainly talk about it enough.

At the risk of raising the ire of the powers that be, I challenge them. Either include Zone 2-B in San Simon or cast them out to be charted as part of Opol. But do something. These people deserve it. If your mothers lived there, would you be as uncaring?

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