By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — In ordinary times, her studies and homework in high school would have been Jinky Bautista’s main concern. Instead, the 16-year old Lumad and senior high school student in an alternative learning school for “indigenous peoples” had to muster the courage to temporarily leave her family, schoolmates, friends and teachers to go to Manila and tell their story firsthand and ask fellow Filipinos for help.
“We had been forced to flee our homes since July 18,” she recounted before the media. A week before that, more than 300 military men from the 58th Infantry Battalion arrived in their villages in Lianga, Surigao del Sur—the military refused to leave since then claiming that they were there purportedly to “protect” their programs.
Genaquez Enriquez (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)
Since they arrived, the soldiers have set up checkpoints, entered Lumad homes, mingled with their households, slept under the Lumad’s houses and cooked rice using the residents’ pots and stoves. “If you refused them they’ll accuse you of being NPA (New People’s Army) sympathizer, and that comes with a threat,” said Genaquez Enriquez, 36, a Lumad leader.
“The military marched into our schools while we were rehearsing for our July 20 Foundation Day program,” said Jinky. “They told us, ‘Your school is a CPP-front!’” The military was referring to the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“Despite their lack of evidence, they regarded us as NPA rebels. They gave us papers on how to surrender,” said Jinky. Some of her classmates got furious. “If we were NPA rebels, we wouldn’t be here studying,” they said. Others were saddened.
They lost their chance to celebrate their school’s foundation day because they joined hundreds of Lumad who fled their villages two days before their much-awaited event.
Jinky and her classmates sometimes still made time for studying. But at the evacuation center in Tandag, where their parents and supporters have put up tents to accommodate the influx of evacuees, it is more difficult to study because of the sweltering heat under the tents, the noise and the problem of whether they would have something to eat at the next meal.
They used to live poor in their villages, Jinky said. But under the tents at Tandag, they have to make do with limited supplies of water and food.
Hardships at the Evacuation Center
The 1,700 plus evacuees need 30 kilos of rice each day, said Rep. Luz Ilagan of Gabriela. She had twice gone to Surigao to visit the Lumads. Failing to get enough rice, Rep. Ilagan said the Lumad evacuees subsist on eating a bowl of rice porridge once a day.
Their living conditions make them, especially the infants and children, vulnerable to illnesses resulting from lack of food, water and facilities for sanitation.
So far, four babies have been born in the evacuation center. The fourth was born only recently. While the mother still has to name her first-born, she is more preoccupied with worrying about where to get baby clothes and food. She only borrows pots and clothes from other Lumads in the camp. “We did not bring any when we came down,” she said.
Thirteen other pregnant women live in the center.
Jinky missed her usual days of going to the school. She got teary-eyed as she recounted how the military had raided their school, the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), and, in the process, destroyed their learning materials as well as their recently-constructed school building, which was built courtesy of a non-government organization. “It was such a terrible waste,” she told Bulatlat.