‘MY MOTHER was a tamla.’
This was Romeo’s prudent reply when asked what fueled his fervent passion in promoting the basic literacy program of Loreto, Agusan del Sur. Romeo Pascual, one of seven children, is a Manobo who grew up in Loreto. His father reached high school and his mother, well, never went to school.
Thus, when Romeo’s mother participated in activities that required her name, she would ask someone to write it for her and she’d seal it with her thumbmark or tamla. Romeo said he once saw his nanay longingly look at one document with her thumbmark, showed him the paper, and asked if the printed name was indeed hers.
In 1996, the mayor of Loreto, Herminio Reyes, himself a Manobo, allotted P301,000 for a literacy program called Lamdag ka sa Kaugmaong Lumadnon sa Loreto. Every year from 1996 to 2005, 10 public school teachers were hired to serve the barangays of Loreto.
Among the first students were the datus in hopes that theywould persuade others to educate themselves. But Loreto was heavily occupied by the leftist New People’s Army and public gatherings would sometimes be suspected as party education or indoctrination sessions of either the NPA or the military supporters.
The first classes were held in the houses of the datus but the number eventually swelled too big for the tiny private dwellings. Because there was yet no construction budget from DepEd, Romeo called on the community to build makeshift structures on a meager budget.
In Marang, a one-room school was put up