Teacher Miguel, helping Lumad children fulfill their dreams

Inspired by Fr. Fausto Tentorio, Miguel responded to the call of datus from Talaingod, Davao del Norte for volunteer teachers in 2013.

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat

MANILA — “President Duterte is killing the dreams of Lumad children.”

These were the words of Ramel Miguel on the death of his student Obillo Bay-ao. Bay-ao, 19, was killed by two paramilitary men at sitio Dulyan, barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte, Sept. 5.

The shooting of Bay-ao is the latest in a series of attacks since President Rodrigo Duterte tagged Lumad schools as training grounds for New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas and threatened to bomb the educational structures on July 24.

Miguel himself escaped death three months ago. On June 20, while Miguel was holding classes at the Nasilaban High School, an element of the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) identified as Rodel Butanlug fired at the classroom. Miguel was able to take cover but one of his students was wounded.

Days before the shooting, Butanlug threatened the 24-year-old teacher, saying, ‘Beware. We’ll see each other in hell.’

Three days later, Cafgu members strafed the school again. When paramilitary men threatened to bomb the school, some of the teachers and students of the Salugpungan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center Inc. (STTICLCI) decided to take refuge at the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City.

Miguel and his students have joined the Mindanao delegation for the second caravan of national minorities to demand a halt to attacks on Lumad schools, which escalated since Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao.

Teacher Ramel Miguel only wants to nurture and support the dreams of his fellow Lumad. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/ Bulatlat)

Encamped at the Equine Stud Farm inside the University of the Philippines Diliman, Miguel yearns for their life back in Pantaron Mountain Range. Like the other teachers in Lumad schools, Miguel has been living in the community.

The 24-year-old teacher came from Arakan Valley, North Cotabato. After graduating from college and passing the licensure examinations for teachers, he left behind his parents and seven siblings and traversed five mountains to teach at STTICLCI.

Inspired by Fr. Fausto Tentorio, Miguel responded to the call of datus from Talaingod, Davao del Norte for volunteer teachers in 2013.

Tentorio, an Italian priest who served the Lumad communities, was killed outside his convent in Poblacion, Greenfields, Arakan Valley, North Cotabato on Oct. 17, 2011.

Miguel could not forget the last time he saw the priest, whom he called Fr. Pops. Days before the incident, Fr. Pops was jogging outside the Church compound. He stopped upon seeing Miguel, then a graduating college student. “He asked about school and when he learned that I needed to buy uniform for practice teaching, he gave me P3,000. I said I only needed to pay P2,000 but he told me to use the extra money for other school expenses.”

Fr. Pops would often tell us, ‘Your dreams are my dreams,’” Miguel said.

Fr. Pops supported his dream. It’s now his turn to nurture and support the dreams of his fellow Lumad.

Teaching in Lumad schools requires learning from the community first. For two months, Miguel learned the language. Then he embraced the culture of the local folk. Unlike the traditional educational institutions, the teaching methodology of STTICLCI and other Lumad schools is rooted in the every day life of the community. Math lessons, for example, would start with identifying the livelihood of families and then applying Math in their economic activities.

Sometimes, parents of his students would go to him and asked their son or daughter to be excused from classes. They need the child to do the tallying when selling their agricultural produce to the city.

Miguel himself rarely goes to the city as it would take three days of walking. He has to get through the dense forest and rest in the neighboring villages at night. There is no electricity in Lumad ancestral lands.

From his P4,000 monthly allowance, Miguel usually buys cigarettes, sugar and candies. When he returns to the sitio, he gives the cigarettes to the elderly, sugar to the mothers and candies to the children. “Their joys are so simple,” Miguel said.

Miguel and the rest of the STTICLCI are not only teachers but are also guardians and leaders. With the community’s high regard for teachers, they are involved in the local justice system. Miguel said the Lumad have their own law called Palabian Gantangan, which was never written but has been passed from generations to generations.

Even without government aid, the Lumad community survives and thrives with the help of religious groups and non-government organizations.

“Why are they treating us this way?” Miguel said, referring to the series of attacks on Lumad schools.

During the interview with Bulatlat on Sept. 10, Miguel received a phone call from one of his students in Talaingod. Paramilitary forces strafed the school once again. “Sometimes, I feel helpless. I wish I were Superman or Batman so that I could protect my students,” he said.

From July 2016 to July 2017 the Save Our Schools Network has documented at least 68 incidents of attacks on schools or at least one attack per week. These include cases of military occupation of schools, death threats and harassment against students, teachers and parents, destruction of school properties, and malicious branding of schools.

Still, Miguel’s spirit is sustained by his students’ dreams.

After the June 20 attack, his students embraced him and told him, “Dugang kadasig!”

With even more determination, Miguel vowed to continue helping Lumad children realize their dreams.

“As Fr. Pops would say, ‘It’s not enough that you see what is wrong. You have to change what you see.’” (http://bulatlat.com)

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