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Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform with College of the Holy Spirit In a Fellowship Gathering through MusiKapayapaan Veritas in Caritate

In line with the United Nation’s Declaration of the International Day of Peace, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP)  in collaboration with the College of the Holy Spirit (CHS) held its annual activity, the ‘MusiKapayapaan’. It was an afternoon of prayer, music, inspiration, camaraderie and solidarity to express the unity for the quest for just and lasting peace in the country.  This was held last September 29, 2017 at the Veritas in  Caritate Hall, College of the Holy Spirit.

Invited guests were Lumad students who are currently in Manila to publicize their calls and cry for justice over the death of their classmate Obillo Bay-ao who succumbed to gunshot wounds after being shot by a suspected military agent last September 5, in Davao del Norte. Obillo was a 19 year old Grade 6 student of the Salugpongan Community Learning Center. The young Lumads also decried President Duterte’s pronouncements that he will bomb their schools. They also highlighted that Martial law only brought terror and destruction in Mindanao, particularly in Marawi.  

The students and the Religious Sisters of the College of the Holy Spirit had a short interaction with the Lumad students. They shared their experiences with each other before the activity proper started. They shared how the Lumad schools started.  They said that through the initiative of religious priests from Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission (PIME),  a Catholic Congregation based in Italy, who sent  missionaries in the early ‘70s in Mindanao, the Lumad communities strived hard to build up their schools.   Later, different NGOs and other religious groups pulled their resources together and were able to build 222 school buildings as they saw the necessity of sending the children to school.  As the years passed, many young and old lumad became interested  in enrolling. The number of volunteer teachers also increased. The Lumads were taught to read and write and to practice sustainable agriculture for their own consumption.

A reflection sharing after the interaction followed where the students of the College of Holy Spirit shared their appreciation of knowing what is really happening in Mindanao from the point of view of the Lumads.

Strella ‘Bait’ Jamil, a Lumad student, shared that they haven’t really experienced peace in Mindanao. According to her, they’ve been deprived of education, health and other basic services for a long time. She also shared that way back; their ancestors were often tricked by colonizers to get several hectares of their lands. The colonizers will offer their ancestors two cans of sardines and a roll of tobacco. Thinking that these colonizers are their ‘friends’, their ancestors would gladly accept the offer and will blindly put their thumb mark on a piece of paper whenever asked, without knowing that what they’ve signed is a deed of sale for the land. This pushed the Lumad community to build their own schools, for them to be educated in order to protect their ancestral lands. They’ve been asking assistance from the government in order to put up their own school but no assistance was given. This led their elders to approach Non-government organizations and different religious groups.

She also shared that it saddens her that their schools, teachers or even the students are being tagged as members or supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA).

She further said, “...Walang mali sa mga tinuturo sa amin,   kagaya lang ng mga tinuturo sa mga paaralan dito sa Maynila…ang kaibahan lang siguro ay tinuturuan kaming maging mas makabayan – pangalagaan yung kalikasan at ang lupa. Nakakalungkot nga lang na mismong ang estado ang walang suporta at parang ayaw kaming matutong magbasa at sumulat”  (There is nothing wrong with what is being taught to us, they are the same with what is being taught here in Manila…what is probably different is that our school instils in us the passion for patriotism and to properly care for the environment and the land. It saddens us that we do not get support from the state as if they do not want us to learn to read and write)

Tatay Alberto, a peasant from Tagum, Davao del Norte also shared that they will not give up the fight on their rights to the land that should’ve been distributed 10 years ago. They will continue to struggle until that land will be given free to the tillers.

Cultural performers, Mr. Danny Fabella and Tubaw, sang songs in between the testimonies and at the latter part of the activity. Ms. Ofel Cantor, PEPP Program Secretary, encouraged the students and the religious sisters that in order for the Lumad people and the poor peasants to succeed in their quest for justice, they should work with other advocates in urging the GRP and the NDFP to resume the peace talks as the second substantive agenda, the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) will address the roots of the armed conflict in the country.

The event ended with resounding chants from the participants: “Save Lumad Schools, Resume the Peace Talks and Address the roots of the armed conflict!”