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MATALAM, North Cotabato (26 May) —  From all indications, the government is contemplating on postponing the opening of classes until a vaccine for COVID 19 is available. With this, some parents and children are already imagining delays for a year or two in terms of moving up to a higher grade level, and therefore, a long wait before their cherished dreams of having a college diploma and finding a job could encounter some damning repercussions. I am sharing my personal experience on how I went through difficult circumstances before I finally had my cherished dreams and got even more than I expected. Indeed, there is a chance for everything under any circumstance and it always happens at the right time if you have a dream and pursue it at every opportunity. I hope this story will encourage parents and children to think that they are better situated now than me before I became what I am today.

Modesty aside, I think I am armed with the required IQ to fulfill my dream professions: Medicine, Law, and Engineering, in that order of priority. But because I cannot afford my first and second choices I ended up an engineer due to poverty. But how was that? They say it’s also quite expensive to enroll in engineering courses. Yes, but not when you are admitted as a Grant-in-Aid student; and not when you have two second cousins one year ahead of you in the engineering course in the same university, which means, I can borrow all that they have used from the previous year. Not known to many was the fact that I got married when my wife and I were both in our second year in college. And so, I graduated in college with two kids holding on to my toga as I was joining the long queue for the procession. My third son was barely more than five months old and so he had to be cuddled by my wife who graduated one year ahead of me.

Back then, I was a working student in high school. Somehow, I managed to graduate from high school in 1971.

At the onset of the 1970s, the “Blackshirt” – “Ilaga” armed encounters had forced many people to flee their homes and relocate to safer areas. The frequent encounters between the so-called Ilaga armed movement and Blackshirt private armed groups were to become the prelude to a bigger armed confrontation between government forces and armed fighters of the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Our barrio (Maridagao, Pagalungan, Maguindanao) had become one of the battlegrounds where fierce fighting had occurred. This situation had forced me to join the MNLF as an armed combatant, not because it was my choice, but because I had no choice. When Martial Law was declared on September 21, 1972 the military would pick up any able-bodied Moro male on sight who were instantly suspected as a Moro rebel. The less fortunate ones ended up in the military “killing fields”.

And so I became an active combatant of the MNLF from 1972 to 1978. At the prime of my youth when I was supposed to be going to school, enjoying the company of friends and girls of my age, I was hiding in the jungle oblivious of what was in store for me in the future. At every opportune time, we were made to stage ambuscades, harass military checkpoints and small camps, and attack villages when there was a need to divert the attention of the military to disperse them thinly when other MNLF units were heavily attacked or bombarded. Such was the recurring scenario day in and day out.

In between encounters or lull in the fighting, I would imagine what has happened to my younger brothers and sisters, my father and mother. Occasionally, I would learn that they had moved from one place to another to avoid the sporadic encounters between government forces and MNLF fighters. I had the least concern on whether they had eaten something or not. All I cared for was to hear that they were still alive.

In moments like this, my mind would shift to a trip down memory lane, recalling happy episodes in the elementary and high school days. I would keep pondering on why this had to happen. Why were we fighting a war that seemed to have no ending? Then I would oftentimes imagine having a college diploma and getting a job that would pay me well and buy me good food, clothes and settle with the woman of my dream.

When the Libyan government-brokered ceasefire agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front was signed on December 16, 1976, I took advantage of this opportunity to work as a contractual laborer of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) hoping that a few savings would afford me a shot at college education. In 1979 or after three years working with NIA, I enrolled at the University of Southern Mindanao (USM), Kabacan, Cotabato where I was lucky to be admitted as a grant-in-aid student. As such, I was already assured of food for work and pay only PhP 19.50 per semester because all my tuition fees were free. To cut the story short, I graduated with the degree Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Engineering (BSAE) in April 1984.

When I was gainfully employed in the early 1990s, I enrolled at Notre Dame University with the hope that, with enough resources this time, I will finally become a lawyer. But again, I failed, not because of poverty this time, but because of my work. I was employed with the National Economic and Development Authority in Region 12 that time and the volume of my work and travel did not afford me the luxury of time to finish law school. I ended up with a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) degree from the Mindanao State University (MSU), Marawi City after three years of quitting law school.

Today, I still dream of becoming a doctor to join the ranks of living heroes of our time- the COVID-19 pandemic era. But, I am now 64 years old and time may be running out on me. It will take nine years at the earliest to complete my preparatory and medical degrees plus the licensure examination. Besides, I think my IQ is no longer the same as 20 years ago. If I tell anyone my impaired ambition to become a doctor, he/she may just take it with a pinch of salt.

Not bent on giving up as dictated by my fighter self, I tried to pass on the dream to any one of my four children: two of them are nurses, a medical technologist, and an electronics communication engineer (all three are frontliners now). I was waiting with animated enthusiasm to know who among them would care to make my dream come true. But all I had was despair as none of them would accept the challenge. “You know, If I had parents like you, I would have been a doctor of medicine before you were born”, was all I can quip.

Now, I got a Doctor’s title sans a medical degree but a PhD in Rural Development. Praise the Lord (Alhamdulillah); I think my latest academic degree plus all those life’s experiences made me whole, and could be some of the reasons why I am occasionally hired as a resource person, planning consultant, and guest professor in at least two graduate schools where I teach Statistics.

The imported COVID 19 may also be a blessing in disguise (with my apology to those who were infected by the virus). With more spare time now due to home quarantine and skeletonized workforce in the office, I have the luxury to ponder on a lot of things and to write. Writing has been one hobby that I love to do from as early as my student days in engineering.

Chasing my dreams made me realize that missing most of what I wanted to become does not necessarily translate to failure. If things do not come to you one way, God has a way of giving them another way. And God knows best. I missed my initial dream professions but I got what I needed to be prepared for mandatory retirement next year at age 65- working at home with pay!

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Maugan P. Mosaid, PhD (FB account: Maxim Sense) is a freelance writer. He is a planning consultant and teaches Statistics in the graduate school]

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