LAST Saturday, the voice of 11 year old Reynan Dal-Anay wowed the audience and made all three judges turned around to appreciate his soulful young voice.
His story, however, that he is from the indigenous tribe of the Tigwahanon Manobos from San Fernando, Bukidnon moved everyone's heart. This was more poignant when he said, “Hindi dapat ikahiya kung ano ang mayroon tayo dahil iyon po ang makapag-aangat sa atin (We shouldn't hide who we are because this is the one way that could lift us up).”
And his song by the way was "Tagumpay ng Ating Lahi", which was sang with such soulfulness from an 11-year old.
While TV contests here often banked on the contestants' life stories – often about poverty or loss in the family – to generate views and votes, this story is moving for we hear a voice from the margins, of people we have come to barely see or understand. His story and his song also coincide with an ongoing struggle of Manobo children this time in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Some 3,000 Talaingod Manobo children welcome this school year with their schools closed by the Department of Education. The Talaingod elders under the group Salugpongan remember that these schools were established since 2007 on their request to non-government organizations such as the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines to help them educate their children and uplift them from their state of illiteracy.
The schools called Salugpongan Ta 'Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) have expanded to 36 schools and a hundred teachers serving in far-flung communities not just in Talaingod but also in nearby towns where schools and other services such as health centers, electricity, and water are barely there.
The schools have been recognized by municipal tribal councils and accredited by the Department of Education Indigenous People's Education Office (Ipseo) as schools that will carry out DepEd curriculum to its elementary and high schools. The efforts of Salugpongan have also drawn support and donations from churches, international and local networks.
But all these services are facing a threat ironically from with regional education officials who cited renewal of permits as bases for “not opening the schools”. The sad thing is that in lieu of supporting these schools, officials are offering to these children the DepEd multigrade schools in other areas, and worse and strange, a school where soldiers would be teaching them.
Illiteracy is one of the main problems among the marginalized, and DepEd itself showed data that nine out of ten indigenous peoples fall in this category. This problem, along with lack of basic services, is further compounded by military deployment, where even children in schools are not spared with the presence of soldiers.
If these so-called officials were watching last Saturday, they could have asked themselves, are they making these decisions that could truly uplift these children from their state of poverty and neglect? Do they make decisions that could make us proud by showing that they care to educate and nurture the culture and values of being Filipinos? It seems we shake our heads over another folly such as this as they thrust orders without accountability of the consequence of pushing communities and these children from the margins to far, far margins.
As I recall Reynan saying we have to be proud of who we are and work our way up, I see efforts from the Talaingod Manobos, from the teachers and support groups who stand by them now in their camp outs in Davao City to appeal to officials to reopen their schools. I say I am proud that there are people who really care, who want these children to have a better future. And that I say is the real voice and spirit of being Filipinos.
By the way, these Talaingod Manobo children have a song and a video that showed their stories too, which you can check out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lsMghPy3Ac.
Let us listen more and support these voices, those of the Talaingod Manobos and also of Reynan's in Bukidnon and all indigenous children hoping their voice and dreams be heard.