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PHILIPPINES: A stranger's thoughts of a place in her country

PHILIPPINES: A stranger's thoughts of a place in her country

Dianne Mariano
September 7, 2011

As a Filipino, born and raised in Manila, it is a shame to say that on my first trip to Mindanao I felt mixed emotions. I was happy because I had the opportunity of travelling to this part of the country, but I was also worried due to the stories of war in that land we called, the Land of Promise; at that I could not expect protection from the government on my trip there.

The dominant perception is that Mindanao is a violent place where there are conflicts between soldiers and the rebels and also the terrorist. This is what newspapers, radio and television usually report. Most the stories though are exaggerated and sensationalized but these were the images I had in mind: the island of Mindanao is a violent place.

While on the plane, I could not help but worry about my travel to the island. However, I realised that I had to set my worries aside and prepare myself for a worst case scenario. Questions were flooding my mind mixed with concern. What should I expect from the places where I will be going? Will I learn something from them? What can be done?

As I was deplaning, I just follow the other passengers. Apart from the soldiers near the gate the airport in Davao City is no different to the one in Manila. I saw a crowd of people taking shelter from rain in a tent while waiting for a ride. Later, a man approached me and asked me something but I could not understand anything. But a colleague told me the man was merely asking where we were going and whether we already had a car. I felt awkward. I thought to myself, we are both Filipino but I could not understand a very simple question from this man. I felt awkward. I felt as if I was a stranger in my own country.

New beginning

It was a long day. We spent the whole day travelling. Later I went out looking for a place where I could take my breakfast and found myself in a small shop selling food that hardly had any customers. A girl, who was probably around 13 years of age, served me food, while her mother cooked. I just told her the food that I wanted to eat. It was my first time to taste dried anchovies with cucumber, tomatoes and vinegar. I never thought it could be very tasty. Few minutes later, my attention was drawn to the girl. I thought to myself what I was doing at her age. My memories were coming back.

I could still remember that I was playing and going my friend's houses. But my mother, who was working abroad, was not with us. She was working abroad to serve foreigners in order to earn money. I envied the girl because she was with her mother. Even if she was not with her friends playing or visiting their houses, she and her mother were together. They were working together to make a living.

After eating, I went around walking, again. This time I saw a mother carrying her baby. At the corner dirty and barefoot children were playing. I could not believe in what I have seen and asked myself, "Am I really in Mindanao or in Manila?" This is the usual scenario that I see in Manila: children and the elderly begging money to buy food to eat. The people call them "Badjao". From what I know, the term "Badjao" is the name of the place where they come from and that they had to live for reasons I do not know.

On the same day, we travel to Samal (island). The air was fresh at the Island and the way of life is very simple. Most of the people there knew each other. Shortly, a young man approached us. He was a tattoo artist. He was using skin paint for temporary tattoos. He has many different designs for those who want to pay to have one done.

While my colleague was having his tattoo, they had the opportunity of talk about their life. The young guy mentioned that if he has no class, he is usually at the beach to offer tattoos to beach goers. He financially supports his own study in Architecture from his tattoo service. I admire the young man's determination to finish his study and given the need for school projects and equipment for his course would not be that easy.

As I was observing the surrounding, I noticed men who were also playing basketball at the nearby court. They were playing in a half-court basketball court I thought they themselves had constructed. It was fun to see them playing. It gave me a different sense of happiness while I was watching them. I could see from their faces the happiness and contentment in what they were doing. They were enjoying the game with their friends and their family as well -- simple things that I had already forgotten.

Lessons I learned

We went to many other places after our Samal trip. In few days, it seems that we had nearly travelled through most provinces in Mindanao. Our trip had showed me something that most of us had not paid attention to before.

The mother and her child at the shop had taught me that had there been sufficient opportunity for employment in our country her daughter would not have to earn a living as well at that very young age. She could have focused her energy in her studies and have time to play. That is what OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) should have been able to do (in the country as well) like what my mother did many years ago. Filipinos would not need to be separated only to get a job abroad, which is often dangerous, to feed their family.

It did not escape my attention also that if life in urban areas is difficult, it is similar to what the people in the urban areas are also experiencing. It illuminates to me that virtually the policy of the government for adequate housing, health and other public services could hardly do anything for the needy.

The story of that young man doing commercial tattoos had given me hope that we could do something if we work hard for it. I thought his parents were lucky to have a son like him because he was the one who thought of the need to earn money to support his studies. However, there is also anger that I feel inside because had our government allocated sufficient budget for education each youth would have had to the opportunity to focus and excel from their studies. They would not have to worry that the following day they could not go to school anymore because they no longer have money.

Now I thought I had given more value to simple and small things that I usually did not pay attention to; the simple things that give us happiness. My experience had taught me the simplicity of the way of life of the people of Samal. I realised this is what the people in urban areas were deprived of because they work so hard to earn a living they hardly find time for pleasure.

At the end, I had mix emotions from that trip. It was both happiness and concerns which were gradually overtaken by my determination. It is a determination to help others and fellow Filipino in order to inform the authorities as to the realities of my people.

*************

Dianne Mariano is a former intern of the AHRC. She wrote this article, originally written in Filipino, following her recent trip in Mindanao as part of her exposure programme.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Visit our new website with more features at www.humanrights.asia

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