Tell it to SunStar: The audacity to cry

·4 min read

By Mary Rose Ampoon

IN 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte told Lumad children face-to-face that their schools and homes should be bombed.

It wasn’t the scariest thing they’ve ever heard.

Once, I saw a Lumad child duck at the sound of an airplane flying too close. After realizing what it was, she innocently smiled to me and exclaimed, I thought it was carrying a bomb!

Another child hates the sound of a basketball bouncing. His parents got shot in front of him on a court, his friends say.

People forget that these indigenous children have seen and experienced horrors that no child—no human—should ever experience.

People forget that they are children at all.

Children are supposed to learn and play and make a mistake and learn again—in their loving schools, in their loving homes, with their loving families.

Instead, these ones learned the sounds of aerial bombs, and gunshots and the discerning weight of heavy-grade military boots. Or the voice of a President telling them their schools and homes deserved to be bombed.

I once asked a Lumad child what he wanted the most. Thinking it was the bonnet he longingly looked at earlier, I wanted the confirmation so I could buy it and give it as a parting gift.

To go home, he said instead.

To go home and find the military camp near where I lived completely gone, so we wouldn’t have to evacuate again.

What about going home are you most excited about then, I asked. To which he answered: planting watermelons. And seeing my baby brother. He already learned how to walk by the time I have spent here.

A month later, the military camp left, but only for an aerial bomb to be dropped in some parts of this boy’s community. His family had to evacuate such a long distance. I reckon his baby brother must have learned how to walk better.

Once, three young Lumad children told me about how their datu was killed right in front of their eyes in their own school. When I asked them where the Datu got hit, the three of them pointed to the body parts in perfect unison.

I imagine it’s hard for us to grasp what it’s like to spend our childhood years getting accustomed to and surviving sheer, unadulterated violence targeted towards our communities and homes.

It’s hard for us to understand why tedious travels and the uncertainty of welcome in different accommodations is still a safer place for children to be in than the comforts of their massively displaced or already damaged home.

So hard that the local police just had to create the most boisterous, ridiculous reason—“child warrior training”—to justify the already well-documented presence of Lumad children in USC.

What the police and DSWD succeeded in instead is instilling and reliving the fear and trauma of the events that led to these kids losing their families, homes, schools, communities with that extremely violent raid.

What the police and DSWD succeeded in instead is placing them under the same position that has driven them away from their communities—unsafe, harassed and prosecuted—used as a trophy in a foreign city that only wants to use them for propaganda, while their trusted guardians and elder leaders rot in inhumane prison cells under false pretense.

The local police claims this is victory—proudly parades the underage indigenous minors in any media institution willing to persecute them even further by asking malicious questions and accusations towards the only people in this foreign island that they trust.

I was there in 2017, when Duterte told these children face-to-face that their schools will be bombed should they choose to stay in the ancestral lands they have lived in for generations.

We’re not scared, a Lumad child told me, because I was the one who had the audacity to cry at the remark.

“We’ll only be scared once no one believes in us anymore,” she says, “but as long as the people are willing to welcome and support our plight, we’ll continue on, ate.”

The Lumad children, their elder leaders, teachers, and arrested students need us now more than ever.

They need our support.

Let us not fail them.