BULATLAT SPECIAL REPORT:
Like their students, the young teachers of Alcadev are just as afraid and traumatized. But the tragedy was the crucible that strengthened their resolve to continue to serve and teach the Lumad youth.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The children had no school bags, no books, chairs nor desks, but they huddled under a tent in the middle of the provincial sports arena, sat on canvas spread on the ground, and paid attention. They are Lumad students, and it was their first day in class at the evacuation site in Surigao del Sur.
“The children had nothing, not a single notebook. We only gave each of them a sheet of bond paper and a pencil,” Guideon Galicia, described the makeshift class to Bulatlat.com.
Galicia, 28, is a teacher of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcaldev). The classes were held at the Surigao del Sur sports center in Tandag city, on Sept. 14, just two weeks after they had evacuated there with only the clothes on their backs, following the attack on the Lumad communities in Diatagon village, Lianga, by the paramilitary Magahat-Bagani.
The soldiers arrived first on Aug. 30, they said, then, on Sept. 1, the Magahat-Bagani came and killed Alcadev school director Emerito Samarca, and Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo –the latter two shot dead in full view of the whole Han-ayan and Kilometer 16 community, the school staff, and the children.
At the evacuation center, Galicia said the first order of the day were trauma relief classes, in which children were asked to express how they feel about what happened. Many remain traumatized and afraid, over the attack, the killing, and their day-long evacuation on foot.
Like their students, the young teachers of Alcadev were just as afraid and traumatized, specially with the brutal killing of Samarca, whom they called “Sir Emok” or “Tatay (Father) Emok.” But the tragedy was the crucible that strengthened their resolve to continue to serve and teach the poor, discriminated, and now, deeply terrorized Lumad youth.
“We will not let Sir Emok’s sacrifice be for naught,” Galicia said. He and other survivors of the Sept.1 attack travelled to Manila to get public attention on the spate of Lumad killings and gather support for the evacuees.
Remembering Sir Emok: educator, father, guiding hand
“Today was supposed to be harvest day for the students,” teacher Jhon-jhon Clava, 23, broke down as he spoke about Alcadev’s vegetable garden and food source, at a forum at the University of the Philippines-Diliman on Sept. 15. The eggplants, stringbeans, pumpkins and corn are probably dried up, rotting away. They also left behind their chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, and a horse.
“Is this what they call NPA?” Clava said, as he described the small boarding school, nestled in greenery in the mineral-rich Andap Valley. The military has repeatedly branded the school as “training ground of the New People’s Army (NPA).”
Clava started teaching in Alcadev after graduating from the Surigao del Sur State University two years ago. “We teach eight subjects, with agriculture as the core subject, because the area is agricultural.”
Clava described himself as a “city boy,” a non-Lumad and outsider to the community, like most of the Alcadev staff. They have options to find salaried work in an urban setting, near their families and friends, but found more relevance for themselves teaching in a hinterland school, threatened by constant military operations.
Both Clava and Galicia told Bulatlat.com in an interview, that they were initially attracted to work in Alcadev “for the adventure.” But the school head Sir Emok, a long-time progressive from Butuan City, Agusan del Sur province — who was also a non-Lumad — inspired them to lead a life of service for others.
“Sir Emok was our father, he shared his knowledge, managed the school and provided guidance,” Clava said.
“You should all get some rest, relax for a day,” Clava recalled Sir Emok telling the Alcadev staff over dinner on Aug. 31. “You, Jhonjhon, you should catch some sleep, because you’re so thin,” he pointed out, joking. They had just finished the Foundation Day activities and were all looking forward to a break from school work.
He recalled that Sir Emok asked about how their lessons were going, and shared light moments from the events of the day, the cultural performances of the students. “It was happy,” Clava described the teachers’ last moments with Sir Emok.
Galicia was the last to see Sir Emok alive at dawn of Sept. 1, when Magahat-Bagani men roused the whole communities of Han-ayan and Kilometer 16 and forced them out to gather at a basketball court.
From the dormitory, Galicia ran to the Alcadev building, and tried to go up to the guest room on the second floor where Sir Emok slept, but he was blocked at the stairs by several paramilitary men.
“Sir, all the students have come out,” Galicia told Sir Emok, who was already there. Sir Emok then asked about the teachers and other staff, practically enumerating them one by one, if they had already gone out. At this point, one of the paramilitary lost patience and hit Galicia on the side with a rifle butt. At gunpoint, he was forced to leave the building, leaving Sir Emok with the armed Magahat-Bagani.
“Don’t run or we’ll shoot,” the Magahat men said. After a few steps, Galicia darted off, thinking, “If they were going to shoot me, they would have done it already.” Nobody fired in his direction.
A baptism of fire and tears
Galicia, Clava, and another teacher, Gary Payac said never in their lives had they experienced the ordeal they had on Sept. 1.
Galicia said he was forewarned of the past military operations and subsequent evacuation, but never expected what was coming. “It was my first time to see soldiers like that,” said Galicia, who is from Bayugan, Agusan del Sur. “Soldiers in the town were my friends, drinking buddies,” he said.
Galicia said he could distinguish at least two soldiers who accompanied and gave command to the Magahat-Bagani men, who wore rubber boots, “had long hair, bad teeth and looked like they need a bath.” The soldiers wore combat shoes, were clean-cut, taller, had better complexion, and wore a patch which said “Philippine Army.” Both soldiers and paramilitary wore battle fatigues, he said.
After the armed men had left, the whole community gathered up their dead and prepared to evacuate.
Still reeling from shock and pain from the butt stroke, Galicia said he packed his documents, yearbook, certificates, and clothes, even the ones he had soaked in soap and water the night before. In spite of his injury, he managed to drag a suitcase and a backpack.
“My backpack was heavy, the sun was hot, then it rained and we got wet. Then the sun was out again, and we got dry,” Galicia described their 16-kilometer walk from Han-ayan to Diatagon village proper. The welt caused by the butt stroke had started to darken. Then just a quarter of the way, the strap of one of his rubber slippers was torn apart, and he had to walk on just one slipper.
Galicia said somebody distributed a little food before the walk. “I was able to eat a boiled egg, but then I vomited,” he said, because his hands were still bloody from carrying Sir Emok’s body.
Choosing to serve
Galicia, a former call center promodizer, finished his Bachelor of Science in Education only this year. He started working in Alcadev only in June, teaching Math, Science and English. He said his mother worried about him, because he barely texted and called from the school, which is a deadspot, and he has to walk for two hours to find a signal.
At the evacuation site in Tandag city, Galicia’s mother repeatedly called up and pleaded with him to go home. It was a tug-of-war of will between Galicia and his mother, who even sent a family friend to get him. When some students saw that somebody was fetching Galicia, they began to cry.
A student pleaded with him, “Don’t let Sir Emok’s sacrifice go to waste.” And Galicia thought, he cannot bear to leave his students at a time they need him most.
“Try to understand, Ma,” Galicia finally told his mother over the phone. “I’m staying here. I wasn’t able to save Sir Emok, but I can still help get justice for him.”
Eventually, his mother gave up, and said, “If those are your principles, then we will just wait when you’ll come visit,” she said.
Galicia said he used to be a volunteer facilitator in the youth federation of the 7th day Adventist, and had experience holding trauma relief sessions, now direly needed by the children. “Maybe this is my mission,” he told Bulatlat.com.
Clava, too, was asked by his parents to leave Alcadev, but he refused. “What happened only showed how important it is for the Lumad youth to get education, and they need a teacher,” he told them.