SALIPADA K. PENDATUN, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 29 June) – More than a hundred young children by the roadside amidst rice fields chanted and waived their flaglets as military troops and provincial officials arrived in the village of Kulasi.
Two years ago, the place was once an enclave of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who regularly figured in fierce battles against government troops.
Today, residents witnessed a very different scenario when the team headed by Maj. Gen. Edmundo R. Pangilinan and Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu came for the turnover of a two-room Islamic school named Madrasa Tarbiya Al-Islamiyah, which aims to cater to more than 100 school children.
The project was initiated and built when Pangilinan was still a commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade stationed in Tacurong City in 2013.
“The first time we came here, not a single child was seen roaming. It was almost an abandoned area, and that made me worry because it’s so abnormal,” recalled Pangilinan, now commanding general of the 6th Infantry Division.
“What we witnessed now is far different, with jubilant young children gladly welcoming us. This is the scene we want to see in every Moro community,” he said.
Mangudadatu said exposing children to education is his administration’s only legacy to achieve long lasting peace in Mindanao because everybody has the chance to widen understanding.
In his speech inspired by the Ramadhan, the governor expressed concerns on extremist teachings to the young generation, which he said is dangerous as it may be an opening for future conflicts.
“That is why we prioritize education in our governance agenda because this is what we believe is the greatest enemy of poverty and insurgency. I’m praying this madrasah will give the children proper upbringing, will impart to them the moderate teachings of Islam,” he said.
The two-room madrasah, constructed by soldiers with the cooperation of local residents and P1-million support fund from the governor’s office for the construction materials, was built beside a dilapidated makeshift building, which served as the children’s classroom.
Army and provincial officials pledged to rehabilitate the old building to be used as a multi-purpose structure for the community’s use.
Barangay Kulasi chair Mamisan Akoy said they didn’t ask money or food from the local government. But he stressed that the madrasah was the greatest gift received by the community this Ramadhan.
He urged his fellow constituents who left the village because they are aligned with the BIFF to come back home and lead normal lives. Several houses in the village, mostly makeshift huts, are in a state of abandon.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama, when asked about Akoy’s appeal, replied over telephone: “No problem with that. We too want to live a normal and peaceful life.”