Friday, February 20, 2009

Endless Battle

It was 25th of January of 2007, when my friend Karina and I went to Kidapawan City (a place somewhere in North Cotabato, Philippines) for a documentary about children affected by the conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). We actually traveled from different places trying to find those kids who were once a victim of the conflict in the year 2000 to 2003 with the help of the Provincial Government of North Cotabato. We went to Silik, Pikit (still in North Cotabato) in search for these children.

The road to Silik, Pikit is indeed arduous… It took us almost two hours to reach the place since the area is located at the very nook of Pikit, Cotabato. We passed by a very rough and bulky road, passed by the rice field, where one portion as pointed by our Driver, Kuya Roy, has been a battleground between the AFP and MILF last 2003. When I asked if there are still conflicts going on after 2003, he answered, "Ah, wala na, naundang na tungod sa peace process agreement." (Not anymore, it stopped because of the Peace Process Agreement). I was to ask Kuya Roy another question when a signage caught my eye, "YOU ARE ENTERING AN MILF COMMUNITY", I stared at Kuya Roy with a questioning look and he said, "Boundary ni sa MILF, diri nagpuyo ang mga pamilya sa mga MILF na sundalo"(This is an MILF boundary, the family of the MILF soldiers are residing here.) But where are the soldiers? What happened to them? Kuya Roy, wasn’t able to answer my question since we already arrived at the Silik National High School, where we are about to interview, a guy named, Sulman.

We waited for Sulman at the Principal’s Office, and while waiting, we learned that Sulman is actually one of the outstanding students of the School. And the teachers were really impressed by his attitude, "responsableng bata" (responsible kid). After a minute, I finally met Sulman. Seeing him? There was no sign of a person who has struggled during the MILF-AFP conflict. In fact, he is a picture of a person with cheerful disposition, a person with a positive perspective towards things. Who would have thought that the person we are interviewing were once a child warrior.
At a young age of ten, Sulman already knows how to use an M-16 rifle and has fought in the battlefield with the MILF soldiers against the AFP. I was intrigued with the idea that he actually fought at a very young age… when he should be enjoying his youth playing with kids his age… but it wasn’t like that for him.
In his environment, there is no room for play… for him he has to be in that battle to protect his family… and protecting his family means be in the battleground and fight for what they believed in.

And so I asked Sulman, what are they fighting for? And he simply answered, "Lupang Pangako" (Land of Promise). Somehow, I find him to be having a hard time answering… because of the fact that, it is so hard for him to go back to a certain point of his life when he was in battle and able to see fellow soldiers being killed right in front of him… indeed, a traumatic experience for a boy like him who was 10 years old at that time. And when asked, would he want to be in battle again… he firmly answered, "No, mas gusto kong mag-aral at tulungan ang pamilya ko" (No, I’d rather go to school and help my family.
Sulman came from a deprived family… and yet his disposition about things made him one of the richest people I know… and I know he’ll go a long way… for a boy like him whose right as a child were somehow violated, I admire his outlook in life… for him its time to look at the future with hope and strong determination to face life and be able to help the family. "Marami akong pangarap sa buhay… at gusto kong makatulong sa iba na nangangailangan ng tulong… sa tulad kong naranasan kung paano ang buhay sa isang lugar na laging may gyera. Simple lang ang gusto ko… ayoko maging doctor, abogado, o maging sundalo… gusto ko lang maging social worker… simple lang, dahil gusto kong tumulong…at ang pagiging social worker ang isang paraan ng pagtulong." (I have so many dreams in life… and I like to help others who needs help… those people like me who has experienced how it’s like to live in a place where there is war. All I want is simple… I don’t wanna be a doctor, lawyer, or even a soldier… I wanna be a social worker… so simple because I only want to help… and being a social worker is a simple move for being of help.
I was impressed by the character he showed me…though I was lucky to interview, a guy like him who has a positive outlook in life… there could be other child warriors out there whose outlook in life were completely changed because of the experience… a disposition that is completely different from Sulman simply because of a painful event in their lives…
I have seen how the local government units of North Cotabato was doing their part in helping these people by conducting seminars and workshops for the victims and offering scholarships to children like Sulman, in order to heal the wounds caused by the conflict between AFP and MILF. And yet based on the interviews I had… no matter, how much they work on helping these individuals who went through so much trauma … if they don’t do something in putting this conflict to an end? All the effort is useless.

January 27, 2007… a conflict between AFP and MILF erupt again, this time in Midayap, Cotabato. Right there we saw how hard life is for the Victims… the only thing these victims do is going to evacuation centers and wait ‘til the war is over… Life in the evacuation is hard; people suffer due to sanitary problem. Painful as it may seem… I saw how children got sick and eventually die because of the lack of supplies in terms of food, medicines.
Innocent children, who has no control over the situations… are the most oppressed in the conflict… we need to break the chain of the 3-year-cycle of war between MILF and AFP. Goods and other supplies are not enough… This is not just their battle… it’s ours… what should be done about it?

My interview with Sulman would not be possible without the help of kind people in the Province of North Cotabato.
To Gvernor Piñol and all his staff.. thank you so much... also to Sir Joey of the Children of Peace, my heartfelt gratitude sir... :)

To DSWD of Midsayap, to Hon. Mayor Araña , Hon. Vice Mayor Rabara, (now a mayor) thank you so much for the security and your hospitality :)

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