ARMM teachers: Fund education, not war

John Unson (The Philippine Star) - March 13, 2015 - 2:22pm

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Close to 200 licensed newly appointed teachers in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on Thursday urged Malacañang to allocate more money for education of children in ARMM, not on military solutions to the decades-old Moro issue.

The newly enlisted teachers brought to more than 3,000 the number of mentors the ARMM’s Department of Education (DepEd) hired in the past 18 months as part of the present administration's effort to professionalize and maximize the operations of the agency.

The DepEd-ARMM was touted as the most corrupt agency in the region during the time of past administrations, owing to having thousands of ghost teachers in department payrolls and for patronizing non-existent schools that were used as conduits for releases of operation grants.

The new teachers, to be assigned in far-flung, critical and underdeveloped areas, are apprehensive that their vocation could not take off if the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front collapses as a possible consequence of the now infamous Jan. 25, 2015 “Mamasapano incident,” which shook the nation to its core.

At least 26,213 school children in seven Maguindanao towns have been confined in evacuation centers since March 1, dislocated by hostilities between the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and pursuing Army and Marine units tasked to quell the group’s capability to sow terror in Central Mindanao.

Industrial psychologist John Magno, assistant secretary for operations of DepEd-ARMM, said the affected graduating elementary pupils and high school students will hold graduation rites at the evacuation centers.

“This is something very painful, but we have no way but punch on. We can’t sacrifice the educational advancement of these children,” Magno pointed out.

Magno himself had seen what is for him “satanic image” of war, having been born and raised in Maluso, a hostile seaside town in south of Basilan, an island province in the autonomous region.

Magno and Assemblyman Ziaur Alonto Adiong, representative of Lanao del Sur to the 24-seat ARMM Regional Assembly, jointly initiated on Wednesday the simple but symbolic commissioning of the newly-hired teachers at an office in the regional government compound in Cotabato City.

In a random survey, 37 out of 40 newly-hired teachers asked by The Star had said they are against military solutions to solve the nagging “Moro issue,” which has been hounding the country’s south since the early 1970s.

Two teachers had separately said all the money spent in trying to quell the Moro uprising by force became nothing but waste.

“Education, providing quality education to the younger Moro generation will help solve the problem. An educated community will always opt for better, more humane means  of furthering any socio-economic, religious and political cause," said a Maranaw teacher, who requested anonymity.

Magno said there is an immediate need for national leaders to extensively support the education thrusts of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, who has been supportive of the Mindanao peace process.

“Public buildings and roads can be constructed easily anytime. The names of political leaders that facilitated the projects will be remembered just for a while. Invest on education, an educated Moro community, taught by dedicated teachers, can overcome `harmful politics' and endure all challenges that will come its way,” Magno said.

Magno said expenditures for war during the tenure of presidents that served in the past three decades were always far larger than what were poured out for the education of children in what is now ARMM.

The ARMM covers the geographically scattered  Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in mainland Mindanao, and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Magno and Adiong, who chairs the education committee of the ARMM’s law-making body, are both certain funds intended for the education now of children in the autonomous region would be spent with utmost transparency and according to the purposes they were allocated for.

“We now have thousands of new teachers who understood well they would be discharged from the service if they don’t work in their places of assignment. All of them are licensed and qualified so they were taken in,” Magno pointed out.

Magno said their unique, well-programmed screening process for teacher-applicants, designed with the support of education experts from outside of ARMM, respectable Muslim clerics, and peace advocacy groups Hataman requested to help, had efficiently blocked the application in recent months of no fewer than 400 non-licensed mentors, many of them recommended by influential leaders and local executives.

The applicants were immediately barred from undergoing the screening examination.

“We have a new bloc of responsible teachers now in the region. These are teachers made to understand and acknowledge that they were called by heaven to engage in a vocation to serve people and are not in for a glamorous career position that can be regarded as only for a source of income,” Magno said.

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