by Marife Magbanua |
As early as the second week of February, Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) staff and learners, as well as their parents, and members and leaders of the indigenous peoples group Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumudunod or MAPASU ( Persevering struggle for the Next Generation) were already preoccupied with different activities in preparation for the graduation and moving on exercises of the school on March 14, 2012. Meetings among student leaders in the different year levels were conducted.
Learners spend their early mornings gathering rocks and carrying sand and gravel from the Hobo River, which is almost a kilometer away from the school grounds. They used these to repair the access road of ALCADEV, construct a dike to prevent flooding, and patch muddy portions of school grounds where the ceremonies were to be held. They attended to these concerns as they continued with their farm work. They were more energetic to work and determined to accomplish their plan for the yearend. To speed up their work and to combat tiredness, they lined up and sang as they passed the rocks from one student to another. The students’ parents and the members of MAPASU assisted the ALCADEV learners in the preparations. They repaired the small huts and stage in the school ground. The communities surrounding the school were mobilized to rehabilitate the old logging roads leading to the school. MAPASU, which is instrumental to the establishment of ALCADEV, always lends its assistance whenever the school holds major activities such as graduation rites.
‘The military is also preparing’
Like the weeks-long preparation, intimidating actions by the military seem to have become part of the annual celebration. These actions which include putting up checkpoint were viewed by ALCADEV as tactics to dissuade the ALCADEV’s guests and supporters from visiting the school by the military. On the day of the celebrations, the visitors of ALCADEV were held for more than an hour at the checkpoint manned by the 29TH Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Diatagon , Lianga, Surigao del Sur. The checkpoint operating procedures of the military changed in anticipation of the arrival of the school’s guests. Before arriving at the checkpoint, all vehicles had to detour twice. The passengers were told to sign in the military logbook. Several elements of the army and the national police manning the checkpoint flagged vehicles and asked the passengers to alight.
The troop’s officer, First Lt. Ryan Layug, asked ALCADEV visitors to sign their logbook. Marife Magbanua, ALCADEV executive director and Norma Ampis, executive director of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur ( TRIFPSS) questioned the new protocol implemented at the checkpoint as there were no public notice given prior to its implementation. They also decry the inconvenience this new rule do to the residents in the area. The two directors asked the military officials to present documents to justify their new rule. The army leader insisted that they were just concern with the security of the guests. He also argued that there was a barangay resolution being issued. In the checkpoint, school’s guests will be given security orientation of the area through a power point presentation after signing the logbook. This was later refuted by the village chief who said that no such resolution was enacted by the council. Magbanua asked Army Captain Fugnit to vouch for the guests by signing in their logbook in behalf of the group. Lt Layug, however, refused to such arrangement. In the heated discussion, the school director denounced the military’s repressive policies every time ALCADEV holds activities. This has become a burden to ALCADEV and to the people affected. She averred that the strict treatment to ALCADEV visitors was not a form of concern for the visitors’ security but rather intended to suppress and disrupt every ALCADEV’s activity. The religious sisters also argued and denounced the process implemented in the checkpoint in front of the two military officials. The two directors refused to sign in the logbook and strongly opposed the area briefing. Majority of the visitors also refused to sign in the logbook.
“The briefing conducted by the military was designed as part of their psywar tactics to scare away ALCADEV visitors and discourage them from attending every activity that we are going to launch,” the writer of this article said.
As the negotiation was happening, two kilometers away from the checkpoint, MAPASU leaders were busy filling potholes with rocks. They were also on standby and planned to troop the checkpoint in support of their guests in case their visitors were prevented from proceeding. MAPASU organization suspects the military is trying to weaken the unity of the indigenous communities in Surigao del Sur to pave the way for the entrance of mining companies in the ancestral lands of the Lumads. In the end, the determination of the guests to attend the graduation rites of ALCADEV overpowered the tactics of the military. Datu Tayadan, the tribal chieftain of Han-ayan condemned military’s way of treating their visitors.
“They ( military) should stop making any attempts to prevent our visitors from joining any sacred festivities that we are going to launch. That is if they respect our culture ,” Datu Tayadan said.
Bonfire of Solidarity
The yearend activity of ALCADEV has brought another dimension of meaningful community development achievement for the Lumads. In the evening, an indigenous ritual was officiated by the elders before the lighting of the bonfire to welcome some 35 visitors from different religious denominations, NGOs, local government units and individual friends. During the bonfire activity, different cultural presentations were performed by ALCADEV and MAPASU learners as they light the bonfire. MAPASU and student leaders shared testimonies of their struggles in protecting their ancestral land, schools and the fruits of ALCADEV’s food security program. As a symbolic expression of their unity to all Lumads, each visitor added a firewood into the bonfire as they pledged to keep the fire of their solidarity with ALCADEV, TRIFPSS and MAPASU burning.
On the morning of the graduation day, March 14, an ecumenical celebration of the liturgy was offered by different religious groups for the graduating learners of Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur and ALCADEV. For the first time, the educational achievements of TRIFPSS and ALCADEV were jointly celebrated this way. Together with their proud parents, ALCADEV learners marched to the venue wearing their colorful Manobo graduation garb with indigenous accessories together.
As ALCADEV’s executive director, Ms. Magbanua presented the 19 graduating learners for the school year 2011 – 2012. On behalf of Sr Helen S. Makiling, MSM, Ph.D, ALCADEV board chairperson, ALCADEV academic consultant Sr Emmelliene Acosta, MSM, Ph.D confirmed the graduates. This year’s ALCADEV graduates have garnered a 95% passers rate in the secondary level Accreditation and Equivalency ( A & E) , a national examination conducted by the Department of Education – Bureau of Alternative Learning System. Passing the A & E is recognized parallel to formal education.
At exactly 10:00 o’clock in the morning, provincial and municipal officials arrived led by Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny T. Pimentel. He was accompanied by Lianga Mayor Roy Hegino Sarmen, Marihatag Mayor Leo Navarro, Lianga Vice Mayor Robert Lala, and Barangay Diatagon Captain Liby Te, with some of his council members. The crowd were delighted to see the local government officials of Surigao del Sur partaking in the celebrations.
The provincial governor is the principal guest speaker of the graduation ceremonies. Gov. Pimentel is the first governor to visit the indigenous communities covered by MAPASU organization. This was his fourth time to attend ALCADEV’s graduation rites. In his speech, he said that he did not heed the advice of the military official who called him not to attend the graduation rites. He said that being the head of the province, the people in these communities is under his responsibility and he was determined to come as he is always been supportive of ALCADEV ‘s endeavors.
On the other hand, Mayor Sarmen expressed his gratitude for being invited to the said activity while Mayor Navarro expressed his hope that ALCADEV’s services will expand to his municipality. Gov. Pimentel sponsored the medals that were given to this year’s outstanding graduates. To the surprise of the graduates and audience Dr. Olofunso Odunukan, a Nigerian doctor who visited the school last February 2012, also sponsored the awards for learners who have excelled in Community Health Work, Agriculture and Academics. On behalf of Dr. Odunukan, Bishop Modesto Villasanta of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, KASALO Organization Secretary General Genasque Enreques, and MAPASU Chairperson Jalandoni Campos handed the medals to the awardees. Aside from the awards, the 19 graduates received prizes from Dr Odunukan. The graduates, parents and members of the organization were very grateful to Dr. Odunukan not only for the prizes and awards they received but most importantly for the message he sent for the graduates which was read by Ms. Magbanua.
The achievements of ALCADEV this year left an indelible mark not only on the minds of the graduates but also on the minds of the members and leaders of the three Lumad organizations in Surigao del Sur that are instrumental to the establishment of the school–the MAPASU, TIPDUNGAN and Sustinidong Ipalambo ug Depensahan ang Lumadnong Kahiusahan (SIDLAK).These organizations are determined in nurturing the food security project interrelated to alternative education which is currently implemented by ALCADEV supported by New World (Bevrjidewereld) Philippines. According to MAPASU Chairperson Campos, they would not have the chance to enjoy the fruits of their efforts had they surrendered their ancestral land and the recognition of their right to self- determination. Their struggle for their rights as indigenous peoples is inextricably linked to their struggle for access to quality education, health and food security.
The graduation rites serve as a venue for the Lumads to be able to celebrate the triumphs of their struggles. These consolidation activities further strengthen the Lumads’ resolve and determination to continue their struggle to improve the lives of the next generation of Lumads through relevant and comprehensive community development.