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Birthday Thoughts On the Suffering Children of Mindanao

I am celebrating my birthday today – the day President Aquino will deliver his first State of the Nation Address (SONA).
It is just fitting for me to also deliver my own State of Anak Mindanao Address or SAMA. Like P-Noy’s SONA, my SAMA will have its own “shock and awe” effect but it will also contain a message of hope we are all in search of.
I will not pretend to know all the problems of poor Christians and Muslims in Mindanao, so I will just take a sampling of their concerns in my birthplace known as Barangay Manicahan and about 10 more impoverished barangays East of Zamboanga City.
Manicahan is a microcosm of the state of other Mindanao areas: poor, populated by Christians and Muslims; children undernourished; schools sorely lacking in educational materials; criminality and terrorism rising as people cope with hopeless realities of poverty and endless strife.
But what makes Manicahan stand out is that it is the known jump-off point of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG); and a nearby island called Sacol is now notoriously known for being the alleged hiding place for kidnap victims.
As a result of this, Manicahan and Sacol Island have turned into killing fields for poor children’s’ dreams, innocence, future, and hopes. Why so? Children of these two barangays are now being recruited by the ASG to be their “spotters” to spy on and identify potential kidnap victims.
These kids, with ages going as low as eight years to 12 years old, serve as the eyes and ears of the ASG to help them get their victims or to give them a head-start to evade arrest or fight off potential response from the military or police.
Older kids – aged 13 to 18 years old – do get to do actual work as fighters of the ASG, carriers of their ammunition or food supplies; drawers of water; as well as to watch over kidnap victims.
In exchange, these hapless kids and their families get share in the kidnap money amounting to as high as P50,000 each (that’s already a princely sum for a kid); a steady income and food supplies; learn to practice with guns; get to rape female kidnap victims (a teacher recently kidnapped had 18 mostly teen kids raping her daily); secure protection from other warring groups in their communities; improve their “standing in society”; and most specially to train and prepare to form their separate kidnap groups in the future.
And in fairness to Muslims, many of the young recruits now are Christion children because they are the ones who blend well into the majority Christian population in Mindanao and are capable of staging sleuthing and even kidnapping operations with little risk of getting caught.
These were among the reasons why in 2007, we started the A-Book-Saya Group (ABSG) literacy advocacy whereby we gave books to the libraries in different schools in Manicahan and to hundreds of thousands of children there.
In April 2009, we opened the Kristiyano-Islam (Kris) Peace Library with a most complete and up-to-date wealth of books, many of which came from the International School of Manila. Five computers donated by PR guru Charlie Agatep were also made available to thousands of students who previously got computer lessons using only cardboards and drawings of computer monitors, keyboards and PCUs in school.
To date, the ABSG helps put to school less than a 100 elementary and high school students; gives basic computer lessons to thousands of students; provides readings lessons to scores children; and provides them printing and photocopying services with minimal fees.
Among the beneficiary students, one – Rumaida S. Abdullatip – graduated salutatorian at the Manicahan Poblacion Elementary School; and Jheo Jimenez, Grade IV, came out at the top of his class at the Manicahan Central Elemtary School.
At the Manicahan National High School, two students who graduated valedictorian and a salutatorian in their respective elementary schools are counting on the books and computers in the library to help them graduate high school valedictorian and land scholarship slots in college.
Marie Joy Alvarez, Vergeil...

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