24 April 2007, Cotabato City --- They do not speak their language. They do not experience what they face everyday. But they can sing of hope and solidarity. It is enough, at least for today, to get the message across.
“Basta’t tayo magkasama, laging may umagang kay ganda. (The morning shines beautifully when we are together).”
This 80s pop song became more than just a ballad when the country’s leading rock band sang it to thank Muslim and Tiduray residents of the very remote Sitio Saramuray in Barangay Pilar, in South Upi, Maguindanao for taking their children to receive essential health services during an advocacy visit in Mindanao for the Days of Peace campaign.
This campaign aims to deliver basic services for children in situations of armed conflict. Lead vocalist Bamboo Manalac, guitarist Ira Cruz, bassist Nathan Azarcon, and drummer Vic Mercado gave vitamin A drops and de-worming tablets to children who were missed out during routine immunization services.
“We want to express what we feel in the best way we can. We don’t speak their dialect but we can use our songs to speak to them,” Bamboo said.
Sitio Saramuray sits over sprawling hills, deep in the hinterlands of Maguindanao, almost four hours away from Cotabato City. It is a community run by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It is so remote that children seldom get the health care services that they need.
Maguindanao is one of the provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). In 2000, at the height of the government’s all-out war against Muslim separatist groups, many villages in Maguindanao including Barangay Pilar became battlefields with thousands of civilian lives lost.
“This experience is so overwhelming for us but we fully commit to increase awareness and generate support to make sure that children in these communities are not left behind,” said Bamboo.
The band visited four communities in Mindanao in the provinces of Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan where the Days of Peace campaign is now being carried out. The Days of Peace campaign is a series of massive service delivery activities in communities not commonly reached due to armed conflict. Various agencies like the Department of Health (DoH), Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) teamed up to make peace a reality for children in Mindanao.
The campaign has gained the support of the MILF, the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and the Act for Peace Project of the UN Development Programme (UNDP)
On 14 April, UNICEF signed a landmark communiqué with the MILF which allowed UNICEF to reach MILF-occupied communities. The communiqué spelled out that UNICEF and local health teams will be given secure passes to these communities.
UNICEF provided additional medicines and syringes for the current Garantisadong Pambata campaign of the Health Department. The aim is to make sure that all children receive the health services needed to survive and develop their full potential.
Local midwife Erlinda Baterna welcomed the Days of Peace support. Like many community health workers in remote parts of Mindanao, Erlinda traverses kilometers of unpaved roads to reach families and children. “Our common problem is the lack of syringes to ensure that all children are vaccinated.” The additional supplies and drugs from the Days of Peace campaign, thus, would allow Erlinda to reach more children this year.
“Peace-building efforts will not succeed if we fail to deliver the basic services that families need. There can be no lasting peace if it is not linked with development,” UNICEF country representative Nicholas Alipui said.
“Kayang-kaya, sama-sama, bata muna! (Together we can if we put children first),” said Bamboo.
The Days of Peace campaign is ongoing in over 500 barangays. In June, the campaign will bring educational supplies to 700 barangays. Another round of health services and a birth registration drive will be launched in October in 900 barangays.
The four members of the Bamboo band commit to do more for children in Mindanao. “We know that there’s a lot to be done and what we’ve done here so far is just a small step but we hope that it is a step toward the right direction,” Nathan, the band’s bass player, said.
In Sitio Masagana in Barangay Pandan, cluster leader Mommod Lumao, a Tiduray, said that aside from health care, education needs the utmost attention in his community. “We hope that our children will be given a chance for better education,” he said in Filipino. Under his stewardship, a make-shift day care center was set up for children of pre-school age.
“We are now imagining how we can best help these families,” drummer Vic said.
In communities such as Sitio Masagana, Muslim and indigenous groups like the Tiduray and the Lambaingan try to live together in peace.
“We are daily wage earners, toiling the field. We live one day at a time,” Mommod said.
“At sa pagsikat ng araw, may dalang liwanag sa ating pangarap. Haharapin natin. (The rising sun will shine on our dreams. We will face our tomorrow headstrong.)”
The lyrics still had to be translated in the local dialect but as Bamboo’s soulful voice filled the air, the message of hope and solidarity sounded crisp and sincere. Despite the barriers of language and distance, one thing was made clear when the rock band visited these communities: Children indeed cannot wait.