War on the innocents

Photo and text by Michelle Co

The story begins with a man, a leader from Kalinga. His name is Macliing Dulag, and in this region from Cordillera, he lived and served the people. He did all he could to protect them. So when the government required them to give up their Chico River in order to make a dam, he was a staunch opponent. Giving in would mean losing their ancestral land, homes and livelihood, displacing them all. And so he was steadfast in refusing this project despite bribes, harassment and threats from authorities.

Unfortunately, unlike stories where the hero comes home to a peaceful life, this one ended in his murder.

This was the price for standing his ground, staying true to his principles, and protecting his people.

Written by Luz Maranan, the tale was read by the author at the Kwentuhan at Kathang Sining sa Kampuhan last Sept. 17, 2017, an event organized by Karapatan, an alliance of human rights organizations, where children from different backgrounds came together in solidarity in line with Lakbayan 2017.

But this story isn’t some masterpiece of the creative mind. Macliing Dulag did defend his people, losing his life in the process. This is a story some of those children were all too familiar with- militarization, threats, attempts to steal their ancestral land, and more.

This was a reality that even kids no older than 13 had to deal with.

For the indigenous children who took part in this year’s Lakbayan, threats to life and livelihood were some of the very reasons they were driven out of their homes to take refuge in Metro Manila. Unsafe in their respective communities, they journeyed to the city in order to call for attention from the government, as well as to keep themselves safe from the military who have been hampering their communities with threats, harassment, and intimidation.

In the attempt to gain control of the land, the military has been infiltrating communities in different parts of the Philippines in order to intimidate and force indigenous people to flee.

Sometimes, however, the military does more than just intimidate, as was learned in the stories of teacher Arjay Perez. In his mere four years of teaching in Southern Mindanao, he says, he’s experienced more than he had expected to.

Recounting instances of violence and harassment by military in his school, he mentioned that two years ago, members of the military entered their school with no warning to ask if the school was legal or if it was created by the New People’s Army (NPA). Days after that, the military men went around the school. This, he says, was a show of power towards the people in that community, as it frightened them, especially the children. By this time the lessons could no longer proceed properly. After the community left, the schools were then occupied and made into barracks by the military.

“Walang teacher o estudyante ay gustong magturo at magaral kung may mga militar na may dalang baril na nasa sa loob ng iyong paaralan,” Perez said.

“Nagbabakwit kami, pero pagbalik namin sa komunidad ay sira na ang paaralan namin.”

He also spoke of a colleague, Teacher Miguel, who was shot thrice during a physical education class he was teaching; the bullet missed him, and instead it hit one of his students who was rushing to flee after hearing the gunshots.

“Ang mga eskwelahan ay hindi NPA school, hindi terrorista. Kaming mga teacher ay hindi terrorist. Pero bakit pinapatay ang mga magulang ng Lumad? Bakit may pinapatay na estudyante?” Perez added

Children are dropping out because of militarization, he said. Of the 200 schools in Mindanao, 39 of these were forced to close because they were occupied by the military who threatened the teachers not to come back to the community.

Now, in the city, the teachers have been trying their best to continue the students’ education in what is now known as bakwit schools. Although the dismal conditions- not to mention pollution, heat, and humidity- are not conducive to learning, Teacher Arjay can’t deny that they are safer here.

“Napipilitang huminto ang mga Lumad na sana’y nakakapagaral na ng maayos mula sa kanilang komunidad, at kung hindi huminto, sila’y napipilitang magbakwit sa siyudad para dito magpatuloy ng kanilang pagpapaaral.”

They are here indefinitely, as they cannot yet return to their community in Southern Mindanao. That is, if there is anything to return to. The military remains there, occupying their land, their homes, and their schools.

These are among the many issues that the organizers of the event wanted to shed light on. Roneo Clamor, the Deputy Secretary General of Karapatan and one of the event organizers, explained that wanted to raise awareness on the situation of children in Mindanao whose schools are under attack, children who are caught in the crossfire of military operations, and those victimized by the militarization in their communities.

“We organized this to bring the issue to the government, especially the kids in Mindanao whose schools are under attack.” Clamor said.

Since they wanted this event to bring solidarity towards children, they invited not only the Lakbayani children, but also children from various daycares in Metro Manila, and those whose families were affected by the human rights violations committed under the current administration.

Karapatan, an alliance of human rights organizations, maximizes all means and forms of campaigns possible to bring attention to pressing issues that are often not accorded enough importance.

“Bilang suporta sa mga schools na pinapasara saka sa mga kabataan na di na nakakapagaral dahil nga wala na silang mapasukan, gusto rin naming maexpose ang ibang mga bata na ‘di mga Lumad, at maka-halubilo yung mga Lumad na bata para malaman din ang plight ng isa’t isa,” Maria Sol Taule,  event organizer and legal counsel for Karapatan said.

This, she says, is important because instances like the forced closing of schools are not often reported on in mainstream media.

Rolando delos Reyes II, the Guidance Services Specialist in UP Diliman agrees that utilizing arts is a form of psycho-social support intervention that the children are in need of, especially because these children oftentimes suffer from trauma.

“Regarding adverse effects of militarization at ung nangyayaring kaguluhan sa Mindanao particularly to children, the primary effect is the post traumatic stress disorder that they are experiencing. This would manifest through panic attacks or anxiety attacks particularly kungyari, may natumba na gamit, tapos may dating sumabog, they will associate this with sounds that they’ve heard before.”

He applauded the activity, saying that having an arts and crafts workshop is a start in the healing process for these children, especially since this allows them to express what they’re not often able to.

That Sunday was unlike most days that these children are used to. A small portion of the camp had been transformed into a play area for them; mats were laid down, paint, brushes, colored paper, and bottles were used by the children to make their very own creations. Volunteers surrounded the children, talking to them, guiding them, and helping them unlock their imaginations.

The children were simply being children- a luxury that they often cannot afford in this day and age with all that they have been experiencing. They are learning, once again, what it means and what it feels like to be a child. Carefree, safe, and protected, they are able to laugh and play without fear of being attacked.

But this is not something that should remain a rarity for these children- they deserve better. They must be protected, their rights upheld. This is something that members of Karapatan, teachers like Arjay Perez, and many others remain steadfast in fighting for.

Author: TNP

The Official Student Publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.