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On The Move

The race for Marawi

All over Marawi City are tarpaulins announcing So and So’s having passed the licensure exam in this and that course. There is something so tear-jerking in the way the thirst for educational opportunity and achievements manifests itself at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. In Marawi and the rest of Muslim Mindanao, this thirst has not been quenched in over seven decades of Philippine independence. It is neglect layered after neglect after neglect.

This is the crux of the inclusive development conundrum in Muslim Mindanao, where the people have experienced civil strife for a century. The real battle for Marawi and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is the battle to free the people from illiteracy and ignorance. Without education, poverty triumphs and dreams barely come true.

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Retrofitting adequate education for the BARMM people requires aggressive programs such as the Alternative Learning System (ALS) that provides “second-chance learning for out-of-school youth and adults.” The Department of Education’s ALS consists of a Basic Literacy Program that aims to eradicate illiteracy, and an Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) Program that targets independent learners who have not completed the formal elementary or junior high school levels. Learners who pass the A&E exams earn official certificates equivalent to formal school diplomas.

A World Bank report on the ALS program in the BARMM reveals that while most Filipino children nationwide start elementary schooling at age six, only 70 percent start school on time in the region. Nationwide, 80 percent of students enroll in junior high school on time, while only 30 percent do so in the BARMM. The accumulation of delays and deprivations in education lead to a startling fact: Nearly half (45 percent) of 16-30-year-olds are out of school in the BARMM, or twice the national average.

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Disturbing as these statistics are for those who are aware and understand the implications of the problem, the rest of the country mindlessly and blithely heaps obstructions to the effort of Filipino Muslims to help themselves. One critical sector that can help lift the BARMM up by its bootstraps has been identified: young Muslim professionals.

There are heroic efforts to make the BARMM succeed, but on the other hand, there are those who respond to the alternative Islamic State pathway to Islamic pride and power.

The critical factors in deciding which pathway will win out is in the hands of the most undiscerning segment of the bureaucracy: the security sector. At the moment, the main factor for the worst-case scenario is in the hands of Bangon Marawi and the military. As a US report implies, the rehabilitation of Marawi is grossly mismanaged. The lead inspector general of the US Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines states: “Public anger at the Philippine government’s extended delays in providing for the reconstruction of Marawi has allowed extremist elements to regain a foothold in the city.”

A second factor is the lack of ownership of the BARMM initiative by the rest of the country. This is demonstrated by the Manila Police District, which recently issued a memorandum ordering its station commanders to “submit the updated list of Muslim students in high school, colleges and universities in your respective areas of responsibility following the attached format.” Purportedly, the data would be used by the Salaam Police Center as “reference” in “strengthening of peacebuilding and countering violent extremism” in Metro Manila. This is counterproductive, as one can daresay that outside of the Mindanao State University system, the universities and colleges in Manila are the primary nurseries of young Muslim professionals who can help propel the BARMM to eventual sustainability and success.

The Philippine National Police demonstrates a narrow bureaucratic mind when it sees the concentration of potential young Muslim professionals as also a concentration of actual and potential advocates of violent extremism. This is a failure in the education of military and police officers to develop beyond soldiery and troop management competencies to acquire the broadminded statesmanship required of those who presume to wear stars on their shoulders.

The BARMM is a project, not only of the Muslims, but of all Filipinos. There was a fleeting interest among non-Muslim Filipinos in the BARMM when it was launched. Now, it is like a dish cooking on the backburner — out of sight and out of mind.

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TAGS: BARMM, Marawi illiteracy, On The Move, Segundo Eclar Romero
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