Quiet, unassuming, and humble. That is the kind of effective leadership that best describes Datu Kaylo Bontulan, the deputy secretary-general of PASAKA, the Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao. Once known to have also taught in Lumad schools, his was a leadership that was innately indigenous, something that even if he does not project himself, his presence was always recognized and very much felt by his people. He is one with his people, and that is what really means to them as they continue to resist ethnocide and pursue claims on their birthright.
Each time I had the chance to be with the Lumad Bakwits in their sanctuary, Datu Kaylo’s presence was unmistakable, and he did not even have to speak out. His very physical presence radiates attention, like that of his fellow Datu leaders. This was enough to make his people know and feel confident that they are doing the right thing in pursuit of what is rightfully theirs.
Perhaps, this is one reason why many among IP advocates who have been working and fighting for Indigenous Peoples’ fundamental rights heavily feel the senseless loss of this most revered leader and many other victims of injustice. But far from being cowed to silence because of this brazen, unforgivable desecration of life that is continuing even as we mourn today, the beleaguered indigenous peoples are even more determined to continue the Struggle more than ever.
The whole ‘Bakwit world’ is mourning amid the series of triumphs among the Lumad children in Bakwit Schools who succeeded in finishing another level of education despite harassments and continuing intimidation. In the eyes of independent-minded people who empathize with the Bakwit school children, nothing is more deserving of accolade and recognition than the people who unflinchingly sacrificed for the betterment of the children.
Hence, what better way to honor those who offered their lives for the Lumad struggles than acknowledge and affirm their sacrifices? Below is a testimony of the kind of unconditional love that Datu Kaylo had for his people as exemplified by many volunteer teachers and advocates serving among Lumad Bakwit Schools especially in Metro Manila, from a member of the faculty of the University of the Philippines. A Bakwit school volunteer himself, Gerardo Lanuza was in awe of his fellow volunteers at the Bakwit School in UP that he wrote the following:
“As a UP faculty, I admire the volunteer teachers of Lumad schools. I don’t romanticize their condition, as they are also subjected to military and para-military harassment (several of them had paid with their lives just to educate the Lumad students) as well as making enormous sacrifices.
What I admire is their extraordinary love for the Lumad children. Indeed, I learned that one cannot teach or be a teacher of the oppressed if one has no profound love for the marginalized masses. I always wanted to volunteer as a teacher for Lumad schools. So when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it heartily.
Having volunteered to teach sociology for the last quarter of the K+12 students, it was the most rewarding moment for me as a teacher in a state university.
It was never a burden for me on top of my 12 unit loads this semester. I find it very rewarding to engage the students in issues using their own experiences and local knowledge.
It was rewarding to know that in teaching the Lumad school there was no gap or hiatus between the knowledge they possess and the knowledge they assimilated from the social sciences.
Truly, if dialogical education is mutual respect and simultaneous process of learning and unlearning, teaching in bakwit school is indeed the laboratory for emancipating the minds of young learners. It is the only class I taught where sociological imagination becomes genuinely public and revolutionary yet rooted in empirical knowledge and concrete cultural materiality.
The bakwit school is the state of exception, a utopian space in transit, where true emancipation happens in the here-and-now, where critique is translated to active and informed struggle. It is the utopian space where dialogical emancipatory education happens –where both teachers and learners journey together in so far as they are committed to transforming the local community and the wider Philippine society. We teach to transform.”
It is the ultimate curse of despotic regimes that chose to silence peoples’ voices rather than peaceably resolve internal conflict, to see the exact opposite of their intended effects. Propelled and emboldened by insatiable greed, the wicked never learn and are always condemned to repeat history. (davaotoday.com)