Four days after the graduation of my learners in Ateneo de Davao Senior High School, I witnessed the graduation and moving up ceremony of Lumad students who studied in the Bakwit School in Davao. When I arrived, the students were already lined up as the masters of the ceremony called their names, and one by one they went up to the stage to receive their certificates and awards. While my learners in Ateneo wore their black robes, the Lumad students had their native clothes on red and black fabric bearing patterns, beaded necklace falling beautifully onto their chest.

The venue was in the gym at Redemptorist church, Bajada, and when I entered, no one looked for a gate pass. A mother seated at the far back carrying her infant flashed a smile at me and gestured for me to sit. While the program was going on, there were children around the covered basketball court who were playing by the garden, someone was distributing flakes and pancit-bihon packed in cellophane, there were chatters from parents which would from time to time be drowned by the students’ applause and cheering as the awarding ceremony carried on.

If placed side by side with Ateneo’s ceremonies, the Lumad moving-up ceremony would admittedly disorient any grand event organizer. But I found no happiness more genuine than that which manifested on the Lumad students’ faces, no cheering more sincere than that which every parent in the venue made. After all, these students needed to escape the terrors of militarization that continuously hampered their studies.

Differences in conditions between Lumad schools and schools in the city do manifest only in graduation ceremonies. Lumad students had to face problems and issues larger than passing the next long quiz, facing a term’s exam, or completing all Starbucks stickers.

During the ceremony, I came across two former students of a Salugpungan community school who I interviewed two years ago in UCCP Haran where they evacuated, and I was suddenly reminded of the experiences they shared to me, experiences which most Lumad students are still now facing. They shared the terrors of hearing gunshots every now and then. They shared how the military elements blocked their teachers on their way to their Sitio. They shared how they were once held captive for days, the cold mouths of rifles felt on their temples, after being alleged as members of the New People’s Army. Red-tagging, stoppage of school operation, intimidation, and threats are on top of problems involving lack of school supplies and facilities.

These constraints, however, could not simply stop them from continuing their education. Students, with the help of volunteer teachers and people’s groups, are able to conduct classes in makeshift rooms in UCCP Haran. This, however, comes with a sad exchange. How could they learn in an environment alien to them? How long do they need to bear the noise of the city and the cramped space of evacuation centers?

Ateneo Senior High School Salutatorian Samantha Cayona, at the end of her graduation speech, exposed how there are students who need to overcome challenges brought about by their socio-economic status to sit on the same chairs where the graduates are comfortably sitting, to get the kind of education that the graduates are getting. Four days later, in the Lumad school graduation, I heard essentially the same challenge, this time from someone who experienced the struggles first hand. More than a celebration, the graduation ceremony was an exposition of how problematic our educational system is, how stratified our people are, how unsuccessful schooling is in its attempt to extinguish the gap between the rich and the poor.

In the last analysis, whatever school one comes from, no matter how opulent, no matter how impoverished, students are victims of systems and policies that either blind a group from the realities the masses face or oppress a group entirely to maintain an anomalous distribution of power. More than pursuing a college degree that would help one actualize his or her potentials, the challenge is not to fight for the students who are hindered to attain the same goal but to fight with them.

That one needs to conduct their graduation ceremony miles and miles away from their own home is in itself symptomatic of how spaces have become unsafe for those who originally owned them. That one needs to shed sweat and blood to experience schooling while others enjoy the same experience with a miniscule amount of effort is a sign that a larger enemy has to be defeated. That a group needs to suffer the consequences of a war that they did not create is a call for help, a call for action, a call for resistance. And we should start listening. (

Reil graduated from Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) with the degree of BS Education in Mathematics. A former editor-in-chief of Atenews, the university’s official student publication, he now teaches mathematics to Grade 11 AdDU Senior High School students as he continues writing short fiction.

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