by Marife Magbanua |
A month after returning from a 40-day stay in the evacuation center at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Tandag, Surigao del Sur, students of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development or ALCADEV eagerly start their disrupted classes anew although a glint of apprehension is seen in their faces. At the height of the military activities in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur which prompted indigenous peoples’ to evacuate in July of this year, ALCADEV was maliciously branded by the 58th – 401st Brigade as front of the communist rebels.
Eager to once again touch the fertile soil, students, together with their teachers and ALCADEV’s food security program personnel, resume their agricultural lessons and activities. Garden plots are gradually revived. Farm clearings per year level are simultaneously done and planted with different vegetables intercropped with nitrogen-fixing crops and insect repellant plants.
The students’ farm lots were left unattended for two months the whole school was evacuated. ALCADEV even had to cancel it’s fifth foundation day celebration in July because it had to go along with the indigenous communities surrounding it which decided to flee after the military deployment in the area intensified. Situations like this made them remember the 2005 and 2007 evacuation where five went missing in Magkahunaw community and the killing of Jessie Bagasmas in Emerald community.
Within the two-months of evacuation and negotiations for troop pull out in the area, ALCADEV students continued with their classes in the evacuation center. Their farming lessons and activities, however, were stalled for the duration of the evacuation as there were no farm lots and garden plots in Tandag which they could use for this purpose.
When they returned to the school after the soldiers finally pullout in late August, the first thing the students did was to go back to their fields and see what they can recover. The peanuts, though stunted because of weeds, were ready for harvesting. They were originally intended to be used as green manure, the students instead harvested the already full-grown peanuts.
Recovery and rebuilding
Students in each year level are now busy mulching their crops using dried grasses and leaves to maintain soil moisture. Others went to the abaca field to do some under-brushing maintenance. Fish ponds are being repaired after students examined the conditions of tilapia fingerlings in each block. Pigs and chickens which were brought by the students with them during the evacuation were already placed back to their original pens. Students gave special attention in taking care of these animals for them to recover from stressful conditions of travel during the evacuation. Everybody’s minds are filled with rebuilding concerns in school and community.
“Makapalagsik kaayo ni nga mga boluhaton sa pagkat-on.Dili namo ni mahimo sa evacuation center.Mao dili gyud mi gusto mobakwet kay dili ta katuon ug insakto didto. Gani, bisan gipasumanginlan ang among school,dili gyud mi mahugno. Hinuon ,mas nahagit nga motapos sa ALCADEV, (“These are very energizing activity for us in learning. We can’t do these when we are in evacuation center. We do not really want to evacuate because you cannot properly learn lessons there. Though our school was maliciously branded, we will never be discouraged instead we are challenged to finish our studies in ALCADEV)” said Joseph, a Year II learner.
On the first weekend of October, most of the students went home to give time for the rebuilding of their family and community farms. Joy, a Year III student, discussed with her parents to come–up with a comprehensive plan for their farm after during a family meeting. They need to double time in working after abandoning their farm for 40 days to get good harvest from it while planting more long term crops.
“Naka-kwarta pa pod mi sa halin sa amo abaca sa pagbalik namo sa among umahan. Makapalit pa mi ug bugas samtang nag plastar na pod sa among umahan human sa bakwet ug makapadayun sa among pagtuon, (We were able to get money out from the abaca fiber we sold. With this, we were able to buy rice while in the process of recovering our farm plant and continue our studies.)” said Joy.
Although the surrounding the IP communities of MAPASU areas are again in unstable condition due to the continuous military operation by the 58th and 36th IB PA, students and parents show more efforts in creating economic sustainability amidst the difficulty brought by the evacuation.
ALCADEV trained the students as channels to their communities to introduce agricultural knowledge and skills to their parents which they can use to better cultivate and develop their farmlands. In a parents’ meeting held on October 5, parents updated the school staff and personnel with the progress of the community’s agricultural activities after the evacuation.
With the school as their venue for their communal sharing of knowledge and experience, they appear, for a while, to forget for the unstable conditions in their communities. However, on September 29, 30 families of Logdeck and 18 families of Magkahunaw communities evacuated again due to military activity in their respective communities. According to them, the soldiers are forcing them to join the Task Force Gantangan – Bagani Force using intimidation and other forms of harassments. They sought sanctuary in the communities near ALCADEV while the MAPASU organization facilitated their stay and provided them with farm lots where they can continue planting despite the displacement. Most of these families are parents of ALCADEV students.
Learners also often worry every time they hear military nearing their communities and school. Last September 22, one of the ALCADEV students was tasked to go to the market in Diatagon. At the checkpoint, she was stopped by a soldier of the 36th IB and was interrogated for eight minutes. The soldier even took a photo of her despite her refusal. Because of fear, she did not tell her real name when the military asked her to sign up on their logbook. This, however, was not an isolated case. With the amount of food supply teachers are bringing in the area to feed the students, they often get remarks from soldiers at the checkpoint accusing them of supplying food to rebels.
In spite of this, holistic formation continues in ALCADEV. ALCADEV‘s aim for the indigenous youth and their parents is part of the lumad’s aspirations for an education which responds to their needs, enrich their culture and develop and protect their ancestral lands.