The last four years for Lumad students like Inday and Toper seemed like a tug-of-war struggling for their right to learn, and fighting for their return to their ancestral lands.
By MENCHANI TILENDO
“Sa panahon sa kahuyang, dili kalimtan ang mga kadaugan.”(In times of sorrow, never forget the victories)
This is the most important lesson that Inday, a Lumad student, learned in her four years in bakwit (literally means evacuate) school.
This year marks the culmination of four years of Bakwit School in Metro Manila – a glorious victory not just for the Lumad youth but also for their volunteer teachers, defenders, and members of their community. With the Duterte administration’s imminent threats of bombing and closing down their schools in Mindanao, harassment and arrests of their teachers and other organizations who have bravely stood in solidarity with them, the Lumad students have time and again shown us what “bakwit” is really all about. More than anything, it has always been a struggle for their right to life and education.
For Lumad students and siblings Inday and Toper, their graduation from the bakwit school means another big responsibility that they owe to their communities in Mindanao.
Inday, 20 and Toper, 22 are both in Grade 12 of the Lumad bakwit school housed by the University of the Philippines Diliman. In 2017, Inday was one of the Lumad youth who were forced to evacuate and flee from their communities in Bukidnon when soldiers and paramilitary closed down their school Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI). A year after, his brother Toper followed along with another batch of Lumad students who were also forcibly displaced from their homelands. This was the height of President Duterte’s red-tagging of Lumad schools, claiming that these are breeding grounds of New People’s Army ‘rebels’.
This is why in August 2017, about 70 Lumad students, parents and teachers started to install their alternative bakwit schools in Metro Manila. With the strong support and active involvement of different human rights organizations and advocates, bakwit schools serve as a huge part of their massive campaign to stop the attacks against their communities. From being housed by the Union Theological Seminary in Cavite, to Baclaran Church, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, to various universities such as the University of Sto. Tomas and University of the Philippines, the last four years for Lumad students like Inday and Toper seemed like a tug-of-war struggling for their right to learn, and fighting for their return to their ancestral lands.
A day in a life of a bakwit school student
In the face of relentless state-sponsored threats and COVID-19 pandemic, Inday and Toper have managed to survive with the help of their elderly and volunteer teachers. Even if they have been away from home for so long, they were grateful for having found a sanctuary.
“After waking up and taking a bath in the morning, I and my fellow Lumad students and our teachers collectively discuss our ‘quote of the day’. One by one, we give our reflections upon the words of progressives and revolutionaries. This has always been a big help for me to center myself despite the mixed feelings of anger, anxiety, and longing I have due to the harsh realities that we all need to live through. This has also strengthened our collective sense,” Inday said.
After their inspirational discussion in the morning, Inday and Toper would prepare for their classes. Because of the Department of Education’s (DepEd) order last year to terminate the operations of the remaining Lumad schools in Mindanao, they are enrolled in the modular curriculum of Leandro Locsin Integrated School this year.
“Most of the time, we are facing troubles with our internet connection here. There are times when we barely understand what our teacher is saying via Zoom, because her internet connection is also unreliable. Before the start of our classes, we notify our teacher that six of us will be sharing one laptop,” Toper added.
After their regular classes and educational discussions in the morning, the Lumad students spend their afternoons with recreational and physical activities. They give time for sports and Zumba classes to keep their bodies strong and active.
“Sports and Zumba classes are my favorite activities of the day. Being able to sweat out and release all sorts of emotional baggage has really helped me cope with our day-to-day lives here,” Toper shared.
Aside from attending their regular classes, the students also have an organized way of performing other tasks such as cooking and preparing food, washing the dishes, cleaning, and so on. After dinner, they gather up once again and collectively assess what went through their day.
Inday and Toper are still left in awe with the fact that their volunteer teachers have done and sacrificed so much just so they could continue with their schooling.
Coping despite personal contradictions
Because of the pandemic and intensifying threats, Inday and Toper weren’t able to visit their family in Bukidnon for two years now. Aside from their longing for their parents and eight other siblings, there are so many things that they miss back home.
“I miss the feeling of waking up to the sound of birds quarreling in the morning. I miss bathing in our clean rivers, climbing up the lofty trees in our community. I yearn for the day that we can finally go home and bring back everything we’ve learned here to our fellow Lumad,” Inday said.
Toper said that whenever they are overwhelmed with negative emotions, they open up themselves with their fellow students and teachers.
“Here in our bakwit school, whenever we are going through personal problems, we don’t keep it to ourselves. We share it to our fellow students and our teachers and we process these problems collectively,” Toper added.
Graduation message to fellow Filipino youth
The onslaught of COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly made the usual milestones bittersweet. On top of the many hardships of distance learning, the gratification of being able to graduate has somehow entailed extra effort of being recognized.
As for the Lumad bakwit school graduates, their graduation this July is indeed a sweet victory.
To Inday and Toper, more than a badge of honor, it is a great reminder of why they have decisively fought so hard for their education in the first place. It will always be for the service of their Lumad communities, for fortifying their struggle to defend their right to land and life.
“We’ve drawn so many inspirations in our four years in bakwit school. We have been equipped not only with the knowledge but also with the strength to use our education for causes bigger than ourselves,” Inday said.
“To my fellow youth, as we transition to another chapter, may we be reminded of the purpose of our education. Let us go beyond the teachings in our classes, and not be consumed in gadgets and social media. We are more than that, we can be more conscious and involved in different social issues, because we can contribute to building a more just and humane society,” Inday ended. (RVO)