Children of national minorities yearn for home, school and peace

The children of national minorities from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao vow to fight for their right to self-determination and ancestral land. (Photo by BULATLAT)
The children of national minorities from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao vow to fight for their right to self-determination and ancestral land. (Photo by BULATLAT)

Children of Moro and indigenous peoples have endured militarization and discrimination, but still dream of a time of peace.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat

MANILA — For the past three years, Al-Adiel Lakibul, 17, and his family have been enduring a difficult life in the transitory site in Zamboanga City. There is no water supply in the site. The ground gets muddy when it rains. The site is far from the town proper, and there is no source of income, which makes life more difficult. He hopes that they could return to their home in Sta. Barbara so he could also continue his studies.

Lakibul and several other Moro children and their families were displaced after the Zamboanga siege on Sept. 9, 2013. He has been wondering why they are still not allowed to return to their homes.

“We thought that the war will only be for a day or two. Then fires broke out and we evacuated to the arena; and we have not returned up to now,” Lakibul was quoted in the Salinlahi’s Ulat Bulilit series entitled “Kalinaw Waya-Waya Salam: Uniting the Call of National Children for Peace. The report was released in a forum at the University of the Philippines-Diliman on Oct. 19, 2016.

National minorities are the most marginalized sector in society, said Kharlo Manano, Salinlahi secretary general. They have long been deprived of government social services such as schools; farming remains backward; they live in the midst of atrocities and threats of displacements from their ancestral lands by projects of big foreign companies.

The Ulat Bulilit gathered testimonies of children who joined the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya (Caravan for Peace). The national minorities from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao came to the capital to assert their right to ancestral land and self-determination.

Children forced to stop schooling

Lakibul said many children and youth in the transitory site were forced to stop attending classes. The lack of income to support the family makes their life miserable. His family could not eat three meals a day. His mother stays at home while his father works as a driver in the town.

He had stopped his studies because the transportation going to school costs P50 ($1) a day, which they could not afford to spend on a daily basis.

Sitti Aiza Sahipa, 14, was in Grade 6 when the siege happened. She did not go back to school even after the siege because they could not afford the expenses, even though public schools offer free tuition. She has five siblings: her two brothers are in Manila working in construction, while an older sibling stays with her at home, along with her mother who attends to her youngest sibling. Only her younger sister goes to school, supported by her relatives.

Her father only earns about P200 ($4) a day for taking care of a parking lot.

“Masakit na hindi nakapag-aral dahil baka hindi ko na maabot ang aking pangarap (It pains me to be out of school because I might not be able to fulfill my dreams anymore.),” she told Bulatlat, adding that she should have been in Grade 8 by now. She wanted to be a nurse someday.

Meanwhile, Ruben Abad, 17, a Buhid-Mangyan from Mindoro Occidental also stopped schooling because of lack of resources. Unlike Lakibul and Sahipa, Abad did not attend formal school because there are none in their mountainous community. He attended classes conducted by a teacher under the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System (ALS). The teacher visits their community only twice in a month. A public school in the town proper is seven hours walk from their community.

To continue his studies, he enrolled at the Monte Claro Elementary School, located in the city of San Jose as Grade 4 student. For two years, he supported his own needs in the city as a cleaner or caretaker of carabaos. He did not get paid for his work, but was given free food and a place to stay. Because he has to work, he sometimes fails to come to class. When he learned that his mother left his father, he went back to his community to take care of his little brother who was then still five years old.

Now he supports his brother and their needs through kaingin or slash and burn farming and by selling bananas, earning at least P60 ($1.25) per 100 pieces. His father sometimes comes to their house and gives them some money.

His brother is now a student of the ALS and he provides for his needs. But earning a living by farming was difficult because they are being restricted by soldiers in the mountains.

Ruben Abad, 17, a Buhid-Mangyan from Mindoro Occidental stopped schooling because of lack of resources. (Photo grabbed from Salinlahi's Facebook page)
Ruben Abad, 17, a Buhid-Mangyan from Mindoro Occidental stopped schooling because of lack of resources. (Photo grabbed from Salinlahi’s Facebook page)

“By 4 p.m., soldiers reprimand us and accuse us of meeting with New People’s Army guerillas,” he told Bulatlat.

Fighting for justiceAlternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev).

He said that they would continue the struggle of their leaders and forefathers, for their right to ancestral land and self-determination. “That is why we are here in Manila; we want the people to know our condition in the hinterlands,” said Dumanglay during the program.

Darlene Tikloy, also a Manobo from Davao del Norte, said that militarization still continues in their community. Their school, the Salugpongan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) was subjected to attacks by state forces. “They encamp in our school and even fire shots in the direction of the school even if there are classes,” she said.

But instead of being afraid, Tikloy said, they have resolved to defend their right to education. She recognizes the efforts of the community members and non-government organizations to build their schools. “It took seven days for the materials to reach our village, from nails to the roof,” said Tikloy.

Their teachers too, she added, are being illegally arrested and some still languish in jail with trumped-up charges. Dominiciano “Dioning” Muya, an agriculturist working in the STTICLC was arrested in 2014 and recently Amelia Pond, a teacher of the STTICLC.

“We are here to call for their release,” she said.

She called for support to the peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) so that they could live and study in peace to attain their dreams.

Listen to the children

It is clear what the children needs, said Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas. The children want to study, a basic social service that government should be providing to all Filipino children but has failed to do so. Worse, the government has not been listening to children.
“Al-Adiel wants to go home, but couldn’t. If there was no war, they should be living a normal life now,” she said.

Children’s rights should be defended, she added, because what adults have to endure is also being suffered by children. “Their problems are our problems too,” she said.

Brosas has high hopes that the people’s movement will attain what the children are longing for.

Congress is only one arena of struggle, she said. “We know that not all of the Congressmen are allies. Many of them have interests in mining companies. We must act together, make our voices heard and assert ourselves,” she said, adding that all rights that the people are enjoying now are results of the people’s struggle.

“We children’s rights advocates want a better future for children and we should start sowing the seeds of hope towards pushing for a peaceful society that provides for the rights and welfare of Filipino children,” said Manano.

Aside wishing to go back to her home in Rio Hondo, Sahipa hopes that government provides free education. “I hope there are no more tuition and expensive projects to be paid. I hope that everything is free so that we can continue to study,” she told Bulatlat. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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