Surviving poverty and conflict in Northern Samar

Once a conflict flashpoint

In the mid-1980s, Edgar Bartolo, a 41-year-old abaca farmer, recalled that Silvino Lobos was a flashpoint for the conflict between the government forces and the NPA. He said civilians, especially farmers, were often caught between the fighting.

Nowadays, it has been relatively quiet in Silvino Lobos. The Philippine flag waved at the public school as I glimpsed the young students in their classrooms. Meanwhile, a military platoon stood guard in an old tower near the municipal hall. 

Sana maihalintulad sa ibang lugar na may pagkaangat-angat ang buhay (I wish we would be like the other more progressive towns),” Bartolo said. 

We left Silvino Lobos after two hours to be back in Catarman by sunset. After the boat ride and some hiking, we hired habal-habal drivers to make the trip faster. Habal-habal drivers charge P300 - P500 for the ride, so you can imagine how much it would cost a poor family to go out of town.

Our journey going back was safe and short, thanks to the hardy habal-habal. But when we finally left, our two 4x4s got stuck in the mud. Our drivers had to use the winch from one of the vehicles to pull itself out and to pull the other car out. 

It was during this trip that I also renewed my admiration for our field teams. It made me reflect on the various risks they face when going to these remote conflict-affected areas.

Two hours was not enough time to go around Silvino Lobos and engage with residents, but it was a unique experience that reminded me – a citizen of this country and someone living in “imperial Manila” – how so much more needs to be done to put an end to the armed conflicts in our country, and to improve the quality of life for many Filipinos. –

Allison Lopez is the head of public communication in the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation to the Philippines.