Art, not his real name, is a 10-year old boy from the indigenous community of the Manobo-Tigwahanon who live in the hinterlands of San Fernando, Bukidnon. He does not know yet how to write nor read. He does not understand Bisaya, the dominant language spoken in Mindanao. He is not in school yet but he has been wanting to attend one soon after he heard that a Lumad community learning center had opened in a nearby village.
However, this dream was almost shattered on the morning of July 30, 2016. Art, together with 150 other individuals, fearing for their lives’ safety have fled their homes in Barangay Kawayan, San Fernando, and are now encamped in front of Bukidnon Provincial Capitol in Malaybalay City.
They had been in Sitio Tibugawon of Barangay Kawayan to attend a wedding festivity. As they were about to eat, bullets suddenly rained onthem. He did not remember which direction he ran to, only that moments after the gunfire, he saw his leg bleeding. Art sustained a gunshot wound on his lower right leg, near the ankle.
The community was attacked by the paramilitary group, the New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform (NIPAR) led by Alde “Butsoy” Salusad. The incident resulted to the death of a pregnant woman, and the wounding of ten others who were mostly children, including Art.
According to Sr. Ma. Famita Somogod, coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Sub-Region (RMP-NMR) which runs two Literacy and Numeracy Schools in the said barangay, Salusad has been known as a “butcher on the loose”, and the self-confessed murderer of Barangay Dao, San Fernando village captain, Jimmy Liguyon in 2012. The teachers and students of the RMP-NMR-managed schools have constantly been threatened by Salusad’s group, the school accused of being a training ground for the New People’s Army and the communities their supporters.
‘Children of peace’
On the 18th day of encampment, RMP-NMR, ACCORD and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provided a psychosocial intervention and distributed learning materials among the children-survivors of the said incident at the Capitol Grounds in Malaybalay City.
The aforementioned interventions fall under the ‘Safe and Quality Education Support to Conflict-Affected Children in Mindanao’ project that seeks to contribute to the urgent need for child protection and resilience in conflict-affected areas. This will be done by increasing access to, and sustain, safe and quality education for children like Art.
Aside from psychosocial and other life-saving services for children and distribution of school materials, the project also includes activties such as repair and refurbishment of temporary or permanent learning spaces, and capacity-building activities for teachers on education in emergencies. The initiative also comprise sthrengthening of local inter-agency coordination mechanisms to support the continuing education of children in conflict-affected areas, and promotion of public awareness on child protection.
The 18-month project that started on April 2016 is funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) through its ‘Children of Peace’ facility.
“We are very thankful that a project like this exists and is able to respond to emergency circumstances. It gives hope to children who wants to sustain schooling despite conflict situations,” said Melissa Comiso, the over-all coordinator of RMP-NMR’s literacy and numeracy schools.
All of RMP-NMR’s 14 schools across Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur are beneficiaries of the initiative.
“I just hope that the real barriers to the Lumad children’s education will be addressed by the government,” Comiso added.
RMP-NMR is urging the provincial government of Bukidnon and the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to heed the victims’ demand for the immediate arrest of Salusad, in order for the Lumad families to go back to their communities, and for the children to be able to continue their studies unhampered.###
[Story and photos by Winbel Mordino Visitacion]