Dear President Aquino,
Malacanang is a long way off from Mindanao’s verdant, rugged mountains. So maybe the news hasn’t reached you yet. I’m presuming it hasn’t. It’s hard to believe a man who still regularly shares the pain of his father’s murder can be silent in the face of our lumad children’s nightmare.
You felt horror and rage on the assassination of your father, Ninoy. I am sure you can empathize with a 15-year old Manobo boy from Sitio Mando, Barangay Mendis, Pangantucan, Bukidnon.
He didn’t just hear of the murders of his kin, Mr. President. He actually begged soldiers to spare their lives, appealing that his father, brothers and cousins be jailed if, indeed, they had done anything wrong.
His father was 70 and blind; his brothers 20 and 19 years old. One of his cousins was 13 years old; the other was 17.
He begged the soldiers, Mr. President. And they shot father, brothers and cousins, one by one.
Maybe you were told soldiers had slain New People’s Army rebels in an encounter.
Well, here are the identities of the slain “rebels.” Herminio Samia, 70; sons Joebert, 20, and Emir, 19, and relatives Norman, 13, and Elmer, 17: a blind senior citizen; two children; two very young adults.
Your father was a mature opposition politician when jailed. He was tempered by decades of struggle when he was murdered.
What were you doing when you were 13, Mr. President? Can you imagine what Norman felt as soldiers pointed their guns at him, as he saw the others fall? Can you imagine what a 13-year old boy feels watching the horror and knowing it is coming for him?
The NPA is engaged in guerrilla warfare. How can a blind 70-year old man be a guerrilla?
They were all kin, Mr. President. Please scour intelligence reports. It’s rare – possibly unheard of — to have an entire family in one guerrilla unit. You see, villagers say the actual encounter with rebels happened kilometers away.
As the years of dictatorship under your father’s tormentor show, soldiers like punishing civilians to deter others from supporting rebels. Yet I am sure your father told you – since he spoke publicly so many times on this – that this strategy only fueled the rebellion in the countryside.
The Bukidnon five were killed August 17.
On September 1, in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao Sur, the head teacher of a lumad alternative school was found murdered.
Emerito Samarca’s students at the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) discovered his body inside the school. They had rushed to inform him of soldiers and lumad paramilitary herding people out of their homes.
Their nightmare started the day before, when armed men torched a cooperative beside Alcadev. They had also gone around homes looking for several men, including a datu. As they went house to house, they accused residents of being NPA supporters and the school, a training ground for guerrillas.
You went to one of the country’s best schools, Mr. President. The folk at Diatagon had no access to education until private efforts established Alcadev for Manobo, Banwaon, Higanon, Talaandig and Mamanwa youth.
The military calls it a school for rebels. Ask your researchers, Mr. President, to scour the global Web for any rebel school that has received an award.
Alcadev was conferred the National Literacy Award twice, in 2001 and 2005. The award goes to “non-government organizations or academic institutions involved in delivering the Department of Education’s alternative learning system program and which have developed and implemented literacy programs that have made a positive impact on learners and the community.”
The award is given to credit those that step in and fill the vacuum in governance.
Alcadev was also a finalist last year – regional winner, fifth place nationwide. I don’t know how many guerrilla training centers are visited by national education officials. Please check this Facebook page, showing officials from the DepEd’s Literacy coordinating council and regional and provincial offices, the Lianga mayor’s executive secretary, the barangay council and even the municipal police.
You tout government’s anti-poverty program, Mr. President. Here is what an Alcadev student has to say:
Amalyn: We can see how our community has changed since Alcadev started. If before most of the households could only eat rice once a day, now almost all of the households can eat three times a day. Where can you see a school whose curriculum is designed not just for the improvement of individual students but the community at large?
The school won despite its teachers and students having to periodically evacuate when soldiers take over their school or demand that the community give up key lumad leaders.
You should have met with some of Alcadev’s students when they were in town late last year to protest the militarization of their schools. These children of the Manobo stood tall. They spoke in fluent Tagalog and were equally fluent in English.
These same children saw Dionel Campos and his cousin Belio Sinzo shot dead by the armed men on September 1. Campos was chair of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (MaPaSu). The organization, Mr. President, was instrumental in in putting up Alcadev.
The military says the Bagani does not exist. The communities even have names for this phantom group, depending on the location. In Lianga it is called Magahat/Bagani.
The military says it knows nothing about the Bagani. It vows to go after the criminals who murdered the three men in Lianga. But, Mr. President, Imelda Belandres, who was disturbed at her father’s wake, says the soldiers were there on the eve of the massacre. She says they were with the Magahat/Bagani when the pre-dawn roundup occurred.
What is happening, Mr. President? In Davao, Bukidnon and Surigao soldiers have been ordering folk not to patronize the alternative schools.
Do your soldiers think education is a dangerous thing? It probably is to those who thrive on exploiting the country’s socio-economic margins. You see, Mr. President, the Surigao, Bukidnon communities, and the ones now huddled at the Haran Mission in Davao City, share one common trait.
All their communities have been engaged – some for decades – in a fierce struggle to protect their ancestral lands from big-ticket “development” projects. And education is a valuable lesson against those seeking to grab their lands.
It’s a resistance also to be found in the areas around the Tampakan Mine project, Mr. President, where ten lumad, including a mother and her child, have been killed.
You do remember, Tampakan, Mr. President? It’s the mining concern gifted with national approval despite the South Cotabato provincial council’s ban on open-pit mining.
Please revisit your father’s speeches and writings, Mr. President. Read what he says about scorched earth tactics, about how oppression only strengthens rebellion. And then think about the children of Diatagon and Sitio Mando and Talaingod.
Revisit your rage as a young man, Mr. President. Revisit your past. Perhaps you might find the will to stop the murders of children and their teachers and their parents.