AFP, Battling A New War In Southern Philippines

March 26, 2008 at 6:54 am | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment


Badjao natives pose with Marine Generals Juancho Sabban and Cesario Atienza and Sulu Governor Sakur Tan and his deputy Nur Anna Sahidulla, center, and other provincial officials and behind them the newly-constructed bamboo houses, a project called “Operation Kandili.” Badjao children listen to a marine soldier who doubles as a teacher in Sulu province as Gov. Sakur Tan and his deputy Nur Anna Sahidulla inspected a school built by soldiers in Luuk town. (Mindanao Examiner Photos)
SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Mar. 26, 2007) – From rustic M16 automatic rifles and smoke grenades, now Filipino marines are arming themselves for a new kind of war – a battle of wits and patience — to win over minds and hearts of Muslims in the southern island of Sulu, where poverty breeds terrorism.

Now marines in this island of more than half a million Muslims are armed not with weapons, but chalks and pencils, battling to save poor children and educate them to win the war against illiteracy.

Soldiers have not only built schools for the poor in Sulu province, but teach the children basic elementary education. Called the “School for Badjao Adults and Out-Of-School Youth,” dozens of mostly poor children who have not held a single book in their life, now are reciting the alphabets and slowly learning how to read.

“Our mission is to help the children in Sulu, our children,” one soldier told the Mindanao Examiner and pointed on a signboard outside the school that reads: “Mission…To provide literacy program for the Badjao out-of-school youth that will qualify them for the formal elementary education of the Department of Education as well as basic education for the Badjao adults to be enable them to communicate and exercise their rights, conduct themselves with dignity and courage, and enable them to perform their civic duties as Filipino citizens.”

Brig. Gen. Cesario Atienza, commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade in Sulu, said they are also collecting second-hand books for the children.

“The children now go to school clean everyday and eager to learn more and this is basic education and their teachers are the soldiers who patiently held them achieve their dreams and that is to learn how to read and write.”

“The soldiers not only teach the children, they have also embarked on various skills training program to help poor families start their own small business – from mat weaving to rice cake baking and other sustainable livelihood projects,” he said in a separate interview.

Atienza said soldiers also finished at least 50 bamboo houses, worth over P26,500 each, for poor Badjao families in Tandu Bato in Luuk town. He said Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan funded the project called “Operation Kandili – Preserving a unique culture through providing homes for the Badjao.”

He said they will construct at least 50 more houses in Luuk town. They have also finished a basketball court. Tan inspected the projects on Monday and promised to release more funding for education and poverty alleviation programs drawing wild cheers and applause from more than 100 Badjao natives chanting his name.

“He is a good man, a good leader and without him, there will be no beautiful bamboo houses like those. Now, many Badjao families will no longer live by the sea or on those dilapidated thatched houses you see over there on your left,” said Kasim, a 29-year old Badjao fisherman, pointing to a row of old bamboo houses on stilts.

Tan said more development projects are underway in Sulu. “We have been funding and implementing a lot of projects in Sulu and all these are part of our peace and development programs. We want a culture of peace and this can be achieved through education and basic infrastructure projects and with the participation of course, of the people themselves,” he said.

Marine Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of military forces in Sulu, told soldiers during an inspection Monday to work hard to achieve peace in the province by engaging in humanitarian missions to win hearts and minds of the locals.

“We must put an end to the cycle of violence in Sulu, to the threats of the Abu Sayyaf and other terror groups and we can achieve this not by the barrel of the gun, but by winning hearts and minds of the people. With the people on our side, we will surely win the war on terror,” he said.

The number of Abu Sayyaf militants in Sulu have drastically dwindled over the past years after many of its known leaders were either killed or captured. From over 1,000 a decade ago, authorities estimate the number of Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the province to be around 200 or less. (Mindanao Examiner)

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