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Bishop calls time on political violence in poverty striken Masbate

Bishop calls time on political violence in poverty striken Masbate

The central Philippine province of Masbate has the distinction of not only being one of the country's poorest but also one of its most violent.
It is an island that has been dominated by powerful families for as long as anyone can remember and where patronage and murder have become accepted facts of political life.
The list of Masbate governors, mayors and congressmen who have been murdered over the last 20 years alone is a long and distinguished one.
Since campaigning began in January for next month's mid-term elections ambushes and shootouts between rival political groups have left at least five people dead.
As a result the head of Masbate's police force, Senior Superintendant Teodoro Caparoso, was relieved of his command.
It was against this background that the Bishop of Masbate, Joel Baylon, said "enough is enough" and called the candidates together to try and avert more bloodshed.
Sitting in his modestly furnished office next door to his church, Bishop Baylon said the move was a "call for civility."
"It was more than a symbolic gesture on the part of the church," he told Agence France-Presse.
Dressed in black trousers and white shirt with a simple gold cross pinned to his collar Bishop Baylon, 53, described Philippines politics as built on three pillars - "greed, patronage and fear."
He said: "Masbate is a microcosm of all that is wrong with the Philippines. Outsiders see us as barbaric and not as civilized people."
He said Masbate - the capital has the same name as the island - was normally a quiet province but at election time it began to resemble the "wild west, an oblique reference to its position as the center of the national cattle industry.
"People are afraid to speak up for themselves so they asked me to speak for them" he said.
"I told the politicians they should be looking at getting people out of poverty, educating the children, and not killing their political rivals."
He said there were more cock-fighting pits in the province than health centers.
"For years now Masbate has been on the list of the poorest provinces in the country. Why?
"Talk to most of our politicians and they will tell you Masbate is rich in natural resources, fish and marine life and cattle. But the question is: where does all this wealth go?
"Do our people benefit from these blessings? The sad answer is no."
Leaning back in his wooden chair, papers stacked neatly on his desk, he said: "In my nine years as bishop I have toured nearly every barangay (village) in the province and I can tell you now that the vast majority of people live and die poor and this is supposed to be the 21st Century."


Updated : 2021-07-27 20:54 GMT+08:00