Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lessons in MIndanao

In about two months, I have already spent a year assigned in Mindanao. I have not written much in that year but mind you, I have a lot of thoughts about my stay. I will try to share these thoughts now.

After graduating from the academy, the next important thing is the first assignment. Months before my graduation, I have made up my mind that I wanted to be assigned in Mindanao. As I go on with this narrative, I hope to be able to explain why I made that decision.

When we arrived, I was a bit confused with the new environment. I simply felt that Davao City was too overwhelming. A very big city yet different from those that I have been accustomed to in Luzon. But I was excited to the adventure that I am about to go through. More than being able to do what I was supposed to do, I wanted to find my purpose in this new place.

Being in Mindanao allows you to meet a variety of people. In Luzon, people usually think that its only Christian and Muslim. Coming here is totally different. For one, Mindanao is generally a “tri-people” place. Aside from the Christians and Muslims, there are the indigenous people who are native to her. I first met the Lumad people of Davao. They are a fascinating group of people who has embraced modern culture yet still very rooted to their culture. I enjoyed listening to them when they talk about their customs and traditions. It seemed that they never fail to surprise. The more they talk to me, the more I realize that I have not seen much of this beautiful place. On a sad note, I felt that some of their traditions are the very reason why they remain to be poor. Their elders view education more as an added value for the dowry (especially for the women) rather than a means to improve their lives. Parents would encourage their children to stay home rather than explore the world and discover their interests. Although many are becoming enlightened with the benefits of education, still I pity those who remain complacent and blame their miseries to the government who obviously can not provide everything they need. When I left them, much as I wanted to help them, I realized that no matter how hard we try we can only do so much for people. After which it will solely be their decision whether they want more of what life has to offer. Accepting that reality brought me to so much frustration that almost made me want to go home.

But then again, the whole experience was educational, as it taught me to adjust my standards to the realities of the complexity of human society. That is why coming to Sarangani became more pleasing. I saw people who remained committed to helping their localities and public servants who wanted the best for their community (and of course those that are not). I saw little places trying their best to improve their current state and above all very proud of their heritage which is truly very admirable. Coming here, renewed my commitment to ensure that the service that I do to them should be made towards helping them achieve their aspirations. On a personal note, I am reminded of thoughts that I had as a cadet of wanting to "be the change I want in this world." I am finding my purpose together with an amazing group of soldiers that continues to validate my decision not so long ago of joining the Philippine Army.

Today, I am faced with the tremendous task of organizing a gathering of young people and teach them how to take part in nation building. Somehow I realized that the religious facade of the Mindanao conflict is but an icing on the cake of bigger problems that are not so obvious. I have resolved that the Mindanao issue is not of religion or culture but of a struggling people wanting to go up and yet only a few wanting to push them up. I realized that the solution to ending the war in Mindanao is really just to lend a genuine helping hand to the people of Mindanao. I need all the help I can get and somehow it is overflowing. I know it will keep on coming. Please pray for me and above all pray for Mindanao.

I'll have more of posts like this in the coming days.


Prinsesang Palaka said...

Before I went to Davao del Norte last summer for my OJT, akala ko Mindanao is one big battlefield. I never thought how rich the place is in terms of culture and natural resources...

I am especially amazed by the way their culture was preserved. Their customs and traditions are also amazing, and of course their dialects. I thought Davao is Bisaya but when I got there nagulat ako iba-iba yung mga dialect nila...

I stayed there for only a month but I think I love the place more than I love Negros. I think Mindanao is really one beautiful place. Unfortunately, it has to suffer from a lot of misconceptions, influenced by the media of course.

I won't say good luck but God Bless on your tasks there. And...take care!

ian said...

amen, alex.

i am currently swinging through mindanao myself, with my small ragtag team, undertaking a project with the DOH on disasters and armed conflict. we've been in cotabato and pikit and through maguindanao. we're in gen san now, headed next to dvo and cdo =]

what filters through to manila and gets blasted by media is such a hodge-podge of exaggerated news and misunderstood issues. i myself am in the process of scratching the surface of the tip of the iceberg but it is worth uncovering and understanding if the issues in mindanao are to be correctly addressed.

sad that people have gotten used to the conflict and poverty... but that doesn't give us the license to just let them be. there is a lot of potential in mindanao which we cannot allow to go to waste.

safe journeys always. hope your forum with the young ones went well. God bless Mindanao all who love her.

Lah-lah said...

I've had a privilege of visiting mindanao 3 times. And before that, i must say i was just like any other typical "taga-Luzon" who had all the wrong ideas about mindanao. I've always thought the entire place is a war zone or something. my mum must have been thinking along the same lines because she freaked out when i said im going there (and again when i said months later that im going back.)
but being there three times, i couldn't have been more wrong. i fell inlove with it the first time i went there. its a very beautiful place full of beautiful people. the people i have met there have been so good to me, i even made a new friend whom i visited a year after we met. they just go out of their way to make one feel welcome and before i leave, they would always ask me to come back.
It is truly sad though, that in some places in mindanao, they dont have the peaceful life i have seen in the parts that i have visited. and even more saddening is that these are the parts that get a lot of attention lately so people who haven't been there think its the same thing for the entirety of the island.
yes, i think we do need to pray for mindanao and her beautiful people. :)

em said...

ganyan yung thought na naderive namin during our Public Administration class, what really is the problem in Mindanao and how to solve them... Do you think many people share the same idea...? We hope so...

dasoy said...

welcome to Mindanao! ... scarred land but beautiful land. May your stay here with Abby changes Mindanao perception as "Land of Promise" to "Land of Fulfillment"... being an active part of the whole convergence efforts of MAKIMA. I salute your leadership in community involvement... commended the way you handle yourself and the 73rd batallion. Mindanao needs a soldier with a strong vision and a genuine heart for Mindanao!