By LAKAN UMALI
Meggie Nolasco has faced many challenges as administrator of Salugpongan Community Learning Center.
On Novermber 28 2018, seventeen Lumad advocates – including Meggie, ACT Teachers Partylist Representative Frances Castro and former Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo – were arrested on trumped-up charges of human trafficking, released only after posting a bail of P80,000 for each of those detained. They were responding to the urgent call for help of students and teachers following a string of harassment by paramilitary forces.
“We were imprisoned for three days and… it was still beyond me, why great lengths and resources were poured into the closure of our schools and in silencing those who support them,” Meggie said.
After finishing her degree in Environmental Science, Meggie nurtured rather idealistic thoughts of working as an environmentalist, dreaming of work in the idyllic parts of the country, close to nature.
She worked as an environmentalist for almost ten years, giving her the opportunity to interact with people who have fallen victim to large-scale mining, rampant logging, and natural calamities made worse by environmental destruction.
“I wanted to contribute more to others,” she said, adding, “I wanted to conserve the environment so more people could experience it.”
But her view on preserving the environment gained a wider perspective when she visited the campout of Manilakbayan in 2014. Manilakbayan is a national event where indigenous peoples marched from their ancestral homes to the capital in order to raise awareness on the various issues that they face.
In this visit, Meggie had an encounter that made her realize the realities of the struggle of indigenous groups. She believed, as was told to her, that the indigenous people are the guardians of land and life, but it was only during her encounter with the Lumad who participated in the Manilakbayan that she learned that the y are targeted by the state and large corporations who seek to exhaust the natural resources found in their ancestral lands in the name of profit.
The encounter moved her to transfer to Mindanao where she took education units so that she could volunteer with a local organization that trains Lumad teachers. A year later, she became the administrator of Salugpongan.
She knew the dangers of being a Lumad educator and environmental defender as she has heard the stories of Fr. Pops Tentorio, Emerito Samarca, and Dionel Campos. Even the previous administrator of the school, Meggie shared, died of complications from a health condition that was not addressed because he had to deal with the seemingly unending attacks on Lumad schools.
“We are attacked because our schools stand as symbols of unity, hope and persistence of communities. We serve as an active defense against miseducation, maldevelopment and repression,” Nolasco said.
Meggie recognizes the current struggles won’t end anytime soon.
The educational system is embattled with the government’s inadequate and militaristic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Anti-Terror Act of 2020, the suppression of independent media outlets, the persistence of extrajudicial killings, and the flawed transition to online learning leaving behind countless Filipino students without a stable internet connection, Meggie continues to serve the students of Salugpongan, knowing that her love for the environment also means ensuring the protection of those who are at the forefront in the protection of our natural resources. And to protect them, Meggie has realized, is to educate them, to make them aware of what they can do to preserve that which has been entrusted to them for generations – their land and home, which for Meggie would mean the environment, her first love that led her to the land of the Lumad.