She had no grand dreams of having her students compete one day in a Math Olympiad, or, any quiz show for that matter. Her only sincere and simple desire was to help her fellow Lumad learn the rudiments of education—the 3R’s. Unfortunately, this simple dream of B’laan community teacher Joy Lasib ended when “peace and development” invaded their remote village in Malapatan, Sarangani Province.
Since last March, Lasib’s school, the B’laan Literacy School and Learning Center (BLSLC), has remained closed. BLSLC, established by an NGO, the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (CLANS), is situated in Sitio Dlumay, Barangay Upper Suyan and recognized by the Department of Education under the Alternative Learning Systems Program.
For years, CLANS has been active in providing literacy programs and other social services to the isolated, neglected and forgotten B’laan communities in Sitio Dlumay and neighboring villages nestled along the picturesque Lunkan Mountain Range of Sarangani Province. In this work CLANS was doing well “despite the hardships.” Until government troops arrived and encamped in Sitio Dlumay in mid-March this year. The soldiers labeled BLSLC as a center for “anti-government activities,” and community teachers, like Lasib, as supporters of the New People’s Army.
The “anti-government activities” the soldiers are complaining of? Printed on a CLANS tarpaulin is its five-point program: “struggle for the ancestral lands,” “protection of the environment,” “no to large-scale mining,” “access to basic social services” and “no to development aggression.”
According to CLANS, the soldiers, belonging to the Army’s 73rd IB, also “tried to create a rift” between them and the B’laan community by “insinuating that we have pocketed the funds” of a micro hydro project funded by the Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (Sibat). Then, last March 15, Jimboy, a 10-year-old B’laan pupil, was forced to don a bandolier loaded with bullets on his shoulders and carry an M-16 rifle, while a soldier took his picture. After that, Jimboy was reported as an “NPA child warrior going to school in Dlumay.”
“All these are just too much for us and for our young B’laan literacy teachers and staff whose painstaking hard work with the Lumad children in this very remote area is being demolished by the military,” CLANS said in an open letter of appeal for help.
These cases were verified and confirmed by a national peace and solidarity mission called Alayon last Aug. 10-13. Among the participants was Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino, the first-ever member of the House of Representatives to set foot on Sitio Dlumay, an eight-hour trek from the village center of Upper Suyan in Malapatan town. Not even Sarangani Rep.
Manny Pacquiao has been there.
Sitio Dlumay’s situation mirrors how Oplan Bayanihan operates—the so-called “peace and development” campaigns are but a rehashed version of Oplan Bantay Laya that, among others, vilified and demonized legitimate people’s organizations and individuals. Sitio Dlumay is not an isolated case, it is being repeated elsewhere, like in San Luis, Agusan del Sur, where a similar school for Lumad children—a school run by Catholic nuns—is also being harassed by Army soldiers.
It is hoped that Representative Palatino’s presence in the Alayon mission would lead to something concrete, not only for the B’laan Lumad in Sarangani province. Congress would do well if, aside from investigating the reported harassment by elements of the Army’s 73rd IB on the B’laan community, it would also exercise its oversight powers by reviewing the present administration’s internal security plan. For now, the B’laans in Sitio Dlumay continue to make their appeal: Tnabeng e dad nga mi, tnamang e skul mi! (Help our children, save our school!)
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Much optimism is attached in today’s resumption of talks between the peace panels of the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), especially after the recent “grand gesture” meeting between President Aquino and MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim in Japan. Yet, on another facet of the peace initiative, the current word war between the negotiating panels of the GPH and the National Democratic Front (NDF) has become worrisome, to say the least, coming as it is in the heels of the improved climate following the formal GPH-NDF meeting held last February in Oslo, Norway. That meeting broke the nine-year impasse created by the disgraced Arroyo government.
The angry rhetoric, albeit unnecessary, openly aired by the GPH panel headed by lawyer Alex Padilla came after the recent capture and abduction by the NPA of several officers of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Bukidnon and of Lingig, Surigao del Sur Mayor Henry Dano and his military escorts.
However, prior to this hawkish GPH rhetoric, there was actually the government’s failure to comply with its commitment “to work for the expeditious release of detained (NDF) consultants and other Jasig protected persons in compliance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) and in the spirit of goodwill,” which was contained in the Joint Communiqué signed by both the GPH and NDF panels in Oslo, Norway. The government’s non-compliance had in fact resulted in the cancellation of the talks which was scheduled to resume last June.
Commented the “Sowing the Seeds of Peace,” a Mindanao peace movement composed of bishops, LGU officials, professionals and civil society groups: “The possibility of postponing or terminating the talks does not augur well for the Filipino people…. All the more are the GPH-NDF formal peace talks made urgent, so that these seeming snags in the peace process can be dealt with politically, and the process can move on to tackle the meat of the substantive agenda—social and economic reforms which have been long awaited by the Filipino people.”
In the current trajectory of the peace process, the sincerity of the parties to the talks is measured by how they comply with past commitments and bilateral agreements. Not by their rhetoric.
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