Within Sight: Storms and the sun

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A RECOGNITION day is a very special event for every parent, the teachers, the students. It is like a license for one to move on to the next level.

The 8th moving up Recognition Rites of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI) Academy was held in Davao City to recognize Ata Manobo children and mothers. These consist of children from kindergarten to grade 5, and mothers who finished the Literacy Numeracy Program levels 1 and 2.

I have attended many such events, but what I witnessed Monday hit me like a spear through the chest, or so it felt that way. I was overwhelmed with mixed emotions. I could hardly conceal my tears. Tears of joy, anger, sadness, and rage. Joy, because MISFI Academy could “finally” hold a ceremony for these mothers and children.

I can see the same joy in Baby Tima Mantog’s eyes when he was awarded Best in Math, Best in Filipino, Best in English, Best in Makabayan, Best in Reading, and Best in Drawing. This was the same boy who told me that his ambition was to become a teacher so he could teach his fellow Lumads in that same school someday. Rage, for why should these people have to find a different location just to hold this event when they could have just held it in their own domain. The reason being that they weren’t allowed to do so by the elements from the 60th Infantry Batallion and Alamara, a paramilitary group of Lumads who were armed by the Philippine Army to extend their forces into remote areas.

History tells us that groups like these can be even more brutal than the army itself. In fact, these children and their parents even received threats of being chopped to pieces should they even attempt to disobey orders. Last Saturday, 23rd of May, we had to rescue these parents and children and help them flee to Davao City just to hold the event. For them, this meant 2 days of travel on foot through hilly terrain, and a 5-hour ride on mostly rough road. Because of the threats, they even had to hide on a cliff’s face just to avoid detection.

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A total of 80 inividuals, 43 of which were children, had to squeeze themselves into a medium-sized truck. This truck had to be rented by the support group Save Our Schools because these individuals themselves don’t have the ways or means to even buy a pair of slippers. Fifty three of these individuals were “finally” able to move up after all the exhaustion, travel fatigue, and possible long-term emotional and mental trauma for the children out of fear for their lives.

Education is a basic right, but with the current system, we even have to fight for or defend it. We always say that the youth is a nation’s hope, but the government’s education services never reach Lumad communities. This is what drives each parent, child, and concerned institution to strive and build schools, but these schools especially are not exempt from the state’s fascism. You see, it wasn’t the government who built it therefore, the New People’s Army must have, or so goes the reasoning propagated by the 60th IBPA and other government forces.

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Education becomes a coveted prize that remains elusive to most Filipinos, as if it were a distant star that is always within sight but never possessed. Here for one second, gone for the next lifetime, parting as swift as a storm chases away a candlelight.

However, storms end and always reveals the sun that gives us hope.

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