My talk today will revolve around three issues: the situation in Mindanao and why only education is the real solution; the need for us get out of our comfort zones to help Mindanao; and why helping Mindanao is a patriotic act beneficial to all Filipinos.
Ano ba talaga nangyayari sa Mindanao? To answer that question, let me cite to you the case of my home place Barangay Manicahan, Zamboanga City. Our place is increasingly becoming known as Zamboanga’s kidnap capital.
To date, four of my relatives have been kidnapped and several more already received letters with bullets inside, a message that they will soon be kidnapped if they will not give kidnappers “protection money.”
Why is kidnapping high in Mindanao? It is because people there are much poorer than those in Manila and all over the country. It is because you have a mix problem of poverty, unemployment, lack of education; and wide circulation of loose firearms. You give a hungry man a gun and you have the making of a criminal. You add lack of education in the equation and you have a kidnapper.
Poverty and lack of education has made kidnapping there a “cottage industry,” with ransom money dropping to as low as P5,000 (cheaper than many of the mobile phones you’re holding now). Although the kidnapping of the rich get in the news, what remains unreported are the almost daily kidnapping of the poor victims who are released in exchange for a motorcycle, a mobile phone or an owner-type jeep.
Indeed, Manicahan is a microcosm of what is happening in Mindanao – a beautiful place torn asunder by government neglect, poverty, illiteracy; and prevalence of loose firearms.
How can we solve that? Not by government’s all-out-war policy! This solution will never work because for every ASG men you kill, you have five of his children taking up his guns and fighting his cause.
Besides, how do you fight a group of young warriors who are not afraid to die, having misinterpreted the promise of the Holy Koran that martyrs of the faith will get 72 virgins in the after-life. Although this is just a metaphor, it is unfortunate that many Islamic militants take this literally in the same manner that Christians take literally the Biblical call for us to go forth and multiply …
In Mindanao today, we see the rise in the number of what we call child soldiers or child warriors. These are children who are unable to go to school due to poverty and are lured into joining the ranks of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the New People’s Army and the Abu Sayyaf.
Mindanao provides a fertile ground for child soldiers – who range from 7-12 years old -- because children there grow up in poverty and ignorance; convinced that the only way out of poverty is through the barrel of a gun. Deprived of books and education, these children do not know that there is bigger reward and stability in becoming a doctor, an engineer, a nurse or a call-center agent.
Indeed, Mindanao provides a poisonous environment for children. It’s like being born blind and having no hint how light looks like. If you are born with guns but have no books around you, how can you discover the importance of studying and the rewards of becoming a professional?
Many kidnappings are now attributed to ASG members as young as 7-12 old who act as spies to pinpoint potential victims. It is estimated that 13 percent of the 10,000 soldiers in the ranks of the MILF are child soldiers.
But it is not too late. We can still stop the rise of child soldiers. Through books and literacy programs, we can still intervene and transform the minds of kids 10 years below for them to see that there is still a life outside the barrel of a gun.
This was the reason why we started the A-Book-Saya Group book-donation project. Our answer to the Mindanao problem is to fight guns with books, education versus terrorism. We want to intervene and change minds of young kids while they are young. We want to show Mindanao kids that they do have an alternative to take the path of peace; not violence.
With this advocacy, we solicit books, used computers, educational materials and assistance from generous donors here in Manila and we ship these to poor families and schools in Mindanao. We’re out to flood Mindanao with books and computers, not guns.
In 2008, we built the two-story Kristiyano-Islam (Kris) Peace Library in an Abu Sayyaf lair in Zamboanga City to help Muslim and Christian kids there get better education and turn their backs on the path of violence.
Thus far, Kris Library had financed the education of 101 scholars and clocked100,000 visits from poor Christian and Muslim students who do research, have a free use of eight computers; and avail of reading and computer-literacy lessons.
This month, we are going there to bring books and school supplies to children who swim two hours daily to reach their school in Zamboanga City; and children who climb mountains and swim across rampaging rivers to get an education in Tungawan, Zamboanga del Sur.
And in gratitude to our donors in Manila, we are building – subject to availability of funds – another Kris Library in Barangay Holy Spirit, Quezon City. We are also working to put a Kris Library in resettlement area for victims of the last typhoon Ondoy in Montalban, Rizal.
Our objective is simple. If in our lifetime we shall have prevented at least one child-soldier from growing up to bomb our buses, LRT trains or ships, then we shall have achieved our mission in life.
In this regard, we enjoin you all to help us in our cause because the Mindanao problem is not limited to Mindanao alone. Remember, Mindanao is not far from Manila. All a terrorist need to do t bomb us here is to buy one plane ticket to travel here.
Peace is always a better and cost-effective solution than war which cost taxpayers about P300 billion in military operations in Mindanao from 1975. This amount does not even include billions of “tongpats” for the generals and their wives.
So, let us all get out of our comfort zones to help Mindanao because when Mindanao suffers, so do all of us. With the failure in government service, the poor people in Mindanao are looking to us for help. We are their only hope. Let us be patriots and help these kids.
Although we are in this advocacy, we are not rich. We are not philanthropists. Like our donors and supporters, we are ordinary people who have just gone tired of complaining about the problems in our country and have decided to do something about it in our limited way.
We are not out to change the world and we will be happy to change the life of children one child at a time. You can all be part of our cause by donating your old books, computers, making financial help or acting as volunteers to our cause. Kindly check us out at www.krislibary.com.
(I thank Transco officials and employees led by President/CEO Rolly Bacani for the warm welcome. I also would like to express deep appreciation for the invitation extended by Ms Linda de Guzman of the office of of the vice president for Transco and for the donation of books. Mabuhay po kayong lahat!)