Mamasapano high school valedictorian pleads: End conflicts, invest in education
John Unson ( - March 30, 2015 - 1:25am

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - All 49 seniors in a high school in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano, Maguindanao never thought their graduation on Monday would push through due to the worsening security problems in the area.

Class valedictorian Norombai Utto, 16, even wept in a speech where she urged for an end to the encounters since March 1 between the military and the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the surroundings of Mamasapano and neighboring towns.

"Itigil na po ninyo ang giyera. Sa halip na kaguluhan ang inyong suportahan, sana po sa edukasyon po kayo mamuhunan, at nang kaalaman at hindi takot ang maging pundasyon ng kapayapaan ng ating bayan. Sa totoo lang po, naiisip ko na sana araw-araw na lang ang graduation, dahil walang military operation," Utto said.

Utto said she is thankful to the Army’s 6th Infantry Division for suspending all military operations against the BIFF to enable schools in affected towns to hold graduation rites for elementary pupils and high school students.

“Even then, I would still wish for a total end to hostilities,” Utto said in between sobs.

Utto and her nine honor classmates, all of them children of poor peasants, received from Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) a college scholarship certificate each to enable them to pursue college with the help of the ARMM government.

Hataman, who exercises ministerial control over the ARMM’s Department of Education (DepEd), also gave Utto and her 48 classmates, whose families are cramped in squalid evacuation sites, P5,000 cash assistance each.

Monday’s graduation ceremony at the makeshift Hadji Salik Kalaing National High School in Mamasapano in Barangay Tukanalipao was jointly facilitated by the DepEd-ARMM, the Army’s 601stBrigade and the Mamasapano local government unit.

In separate messages, Hataman and ARMM’s education secretary, lawyer Jamar Kulayan, took turns calling on the 49 graduating students not to lose hope in the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Hataman said there are tacit indications that President Benigno Aquino III and the MILF central committee will not disengage from the peace process despite the January 25 hostilities in Mamasapano’s adjoining Barangays Tukanalipao, Pidsandawan and Inog-og between police commandos and Moro rebels.

At least 44 members of the Special Action Force, 17 MILF rebels and five innocent villagers were killed in the incident.

“We all need to support the peace process. There can be no better solution to the Moro issue than a peaceful, negotiated solution,” Hataman said.

Hataman said he and the ARMM government’s rank-and-file personnel are all thankful to President Aquino for having renewed his commitment to pursue the GPH-MILF peace effort, ignoring mounting criticisms and calls for an all-out war against the rebel group.

"That commitment of the President was explicitly reaffirmed in his speech during the March 27 commemoration of the first anniversary of the signing of the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro by the government panel and its counterpart in the MILF," Hataman said.

The agreement was signed by both panels in Malacañang, in the presence of national officials, representatives from Mindanao's religious, political and business communities and diplomats from embassies of different states, among them envoys from member-countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. 

“The MILF had also said, in its official report last week on the Mamasapano incident, that it will not disengage from the peace process," Hataman said.

Utto’s father, Faisal, said he is optimistic that the security problems hounding Mamasapano, as a consequence of the January 25 police-rebel encounter in the municipality, would soon wane.

“We want to live normal lives. We want our children to pursue their studies undisturbed by conflicts,” he said.

There are now close to 130,000 evacuees in different relief sites in Mamasapano and nearby Datu Piang, Salibo, Datu Unsay, Datu Saudi,  Sharif Aguak and Sharif Saidona towns, displaced by the face-off between the military and the BIFF.

The BIFF had coddled Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, most known as Marwan, the target of the January 25 police operation in Barangay Inog-og in Mamasapano.

Marwan was killed in the raid, but the SAF operatives that neutralized him encountered MILF forces and a third group, the BIFF, while maneuvering their way out of his hideout, sparking an 11-hour running firefight. 

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