SAN FERNANDO, Bukidnon, August 11 (PIA) - In far Sitio Laburon, Matupe village in San Fernando town, teams of soldiers and parent volunteers who did the carpentry and masonry works of the makeshift schools recently witnessed the turnover of seven school buildings to the Department of Education (DepEd).
In a simple turnover ceremony, 89th Infantry Battalion (89IB) commander Lt. Col. Silas Trasmontero shared that they were sent on a very challenging mission of building schools for the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in the hinterlands and fulfilled it through "Bayanihan (unity and cooperation)."
He explained that Bayanihan's new example in the conduct of operations is 'winning the peace' by giving weight to the long-term and equally important effects of military operations on the people's way of life and their well-being.
"It pains us to see grade schoolchildren walking more than three kilometers from home to school, more so during rainy days because they need to cross creeks and streams. These structures could help lighten our IP children's daily struggle just to be schooled. We want to send a stark message that the government is here for them," Lt. Col. Trasmontero said.
He also announced that five of these seven makeshift schools were built in Sitio Balao, Sitio Malungon, and Sitio Lugawon in barangay Kalagangan; Sitio Binasalan in barangay Cabuling; and Sitio Laburon in barangay Matupe, all in far-off areas of San Fernando town. The other two are in Kitaotao municipality situated at Salumayag and Kalinawan sub-villages of barangay Digongan that border the two adjoining towns.
Lt. Col. Trasmontero also pointed out the help of local government units (LGUs), civil society organizations, private sector, and even communities, which is vital in working smoothly on the project in the hinterlands where insurgency thrives.
While describing that in the past, fine soldiery meant firing the guns of war and making a body count of enemies who fell in combat, 89IB civil-military operations officer Capt. Milbert Bonzato said the Philippine Army's "Bayanihan spirit" measures a soldier's success based on peacekeeping and peace building works being done on the ground.
"There are real needs here and we are doing our best to try to meet them. There are vulnerable people here," Capt. Bonzato said.
Brigadier General Nolasco Mempin, commander of the 1003rd Brigade in his keynote message clarified that the newly established IP schools are made of wood and cement, with galvanized iron roofs and aggregate footings. Each structure has two classrooms big enough to accommodate 25 to 30 learners per classroom, he indicated.
"Things will change, and change again. But we must try to remember that no matter how substandard the facilities and resources of the location are, this is what the locals have and they are doing their best with what they have. And we must keep in mind that they [IPs] will continue to do the Bayanihan after we, as missionaries, leave because they got by before we showed up. Peace cannot be kept by force. It can be achieved by understanding," BGen. Mempin said.
He disclosed that these schools will replace those built by some left-leaning groups that have already been closed.
Consequently, tribal chieftain Datu Lito Gambay lauded the government for putting up the said tribal schools.
"We are very happy with the construction of these custom-tailored Lumad schools because our children will no longer have to hurdle the day-to-day hardships especially when it rains. Besides, we don't want our children to be deceived by the NPA's 'fake' schools. We want our children to have a bright future with the government under President Duterte," the tribal chief said in dialect.
Similarly, Vice-mayor Edwin Abucayan who represented the mayor of Kitaotao town commendably thanked the 89IB soldiers and the parents who worked with no pay just to build the IP schools.
Bukidnon Schools Division Superintendent Randolph Tortola, meanwhile, reported that DepEd has registered more than 400 IP learners from the said far-flung areas. "Though classroom learning is yet to resume due to COVID-19, still, students will have something to look forward to, especially that these children are more than eager and ready to attend classes," he shared.
San Fernando mayor Levi Edma, for his part, thanked the Philippine Army for the inspiring triumph of the troops and the residents who volunteered to build such schools.
Edma urged the beneficiaries in each community to give their full support to the government because in return, he said "the local government commits to take care of the schoolchildren's needs, including the salaries of teachers as schools open on August 24." (RLRB/PIA Bukidnon)