Slain priest's legacy continues in lumad school teachers

FIVE years after the killing of Italian missionary Father Fausto 'Pops' Tentorio, his scholars remember him by continuing his legacy, as teachers to lumad students.

In a commemorative activity held last October 6 in time of World Teachers' Day at Ateneo de Davao University, two of his scholars attributed their commitment to teaching because of their experience with Pops.

Ricky Balilid, a Home Economics major, has been teaching Manobo grade school students in Gupitan, Kapalong under MISFI Academy for four years.

Ricky said he first thought he would be teaching the lumads for a couple of years and later transfer to the city. But his experience teaching the lumads have made him stay longer.

"When they show interest to write by using charcoal when they don't have a pen, and a banana leaf can be transformed into a paper, I became more inspired to be a teacher for them," he told the audience in the forum.

"For I also went through that experience too." Ricky added

Ricky is a Blaan from Columbio, Sultan Kudarat. He has known Fr. Pops who befriended his lolo in his childhood days and supported his schooling all the way to college.

"Dili siya maarte, dili siya maulaw kung unsay pagkaon naa sa amo (He isn't picky or embarrassed to take whatever food we have in our place,)" he recalled.

Such selflessness in Pops inspired him to take the not so easy task of teaching in Kapalong, which would take him two days to get there, crossing 42 rivers.

Serving Pops' school in Talaingod

Another scholar and teacher of Fr. Pops, Sereta Lawian, also experiences the long trek of going to the community school in Talaingod.

Sereta, also a Blaan from Columbio, said she was in fourth year college when she last met Fr. Pops before he died.

She later found out that the Salugpongan Community Learning Center where she teaches in Barangay Dulyan was the first school Fr. Pops helped built in Talaingod through funds sourced from friends and family.

"Who would have known I would be teaching in the school Fr. Pops helped built in Talaingod?" she said.

Sereta is one of the longest tenured teacher of Salugpongan in Talaingod for four years.

She said teaching in remote areas can make her long for family, but she would remember as a student, Fr. Pops would gather them for reflection and sharing and remind them of their purpose for studying and that is to help their community.

Facing danger

But lately, lumad teachers have faced danger. Sereta said such danger comes from the paramilitary Alamara and also soldiers camping in their communities.

"But with the community and their leaders ready to protect you, even your students would do the same, you can rely on them in these times," said Sereta.

Ricky also had his share of this danger, coming face-to-face with the paramilitary Alamara who accused him as a New People's Army and threaten to kill him and his students.

"It pains me when they accused me as a rebel. One reason why I want to teach fellow Lumads is to give them an opportunity to be in school and not to carry arms," he said.

The threats have forced communities from Kapalong and Talaingod to evacuate last year to UCCP Haran in Davao City. Ricky heads a team of teachers who continue to provide lessons to the students in makeshift classrooms.

Most of the communities have returned now after the joint ceasefire declaration of the Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front. However, the Kapalong community continues to stay in Haran because of the refusal of the paramilitary Alamara to pull out from their communities, and the local government has raised their hands up from this matter.

But Ricky would not give up easily. They remember Pops had his share of danger one too many times for sticking out with the lumads from his services and protection of their ancestral land.

They knew Fr. Pops would never give up just as he never gave up on them before. Sereta calls Fr. Pops "Tatay" and said she challenges herself to live out his dreams for the lumads.

"Education is important to achieve our dream that is to protect our ancestral land," Sereta said.

"Without Pops, there wouldn't be us teachers here," added Ricky. "We are just continuing his journey."

In the 33 years of his mission, Pops have supported the schooling of about 3,000 lumads from grade school to college.

That journey continues with the likes of Ricky and Sereta, who see more lumads longing to take education to help build their community.

"When they are really interested to learn and to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, I become more inspired. I won't give them up for others," said Ricky.


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