Bridging peace in war-torn Sulu through pencils

Posted on Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 and is filed under Defense, Philippine Marines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

It was the middle of a rainy season in July when LtC. Romulo Quemado assumed the leadership command of the Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT) 2 in Talipao and Mambung, two of Sulu’s conflict-affected municipalities.  In an initial assessment of the MBLT2’s Area of Responsibility (AOR), the Marines gathered data on impressions of the local community folk towards the Philippine Armed Forces in general and the Marines in particular.

The core of the findings showed that community folk were a bit hostile to government troops, as manifested in statements of children and teachers in various schools in said municipalities.  “Tumatakbo ang mga bata palayo at nagtatago dahil ‘yan ang tinuro sa kanila ng mga magulang nila, na kapag may sundalo, tumakbo na at magtago dahil giyera na ang kasunod,” said 2Lt. Roceli Famulag, PN(M).

Famulag has been serving in MBLT2 as platoon leader and LtC Quemado designated her as among the frontliners for the community relations program.

“It was from this early assessment that we had that we realized how important it was to initiate a different strategy, countering people’s fear with trust,” LtC Quemado said.  Considering the vital role of the civilian populace in implementing the AFP’s civil-military community relations program, MBLT2 knew that this should be their kick-off point in building forward relations.

“We found the pencil as the connector between the Marines and the youth.  The pencil served as a manifestation of our support to education, and to the youth sector.  This is how we developed the Pencil Patrol Program,” Quemado said.

Pencil Patrol is a school-directed program for pre-schoolers and elementary school learners in Talipao and Maimbung municipalities in Sulu.  With the support of the Black Pencil Project headed by Mon Corpuz, pencils are given away by Marine soldiers to school children.

Naging desynthesized ang mga bata.  Dati, umalayo sila pag may may Marines na dumarating sa schools nila.  Ngayon, sila na ang kusang lumalapit, humihingi ng lapis at eraser.  At ang tawag na nila sa mga Marines, Kuya at Ate na,” Quemado said.

Quemado added that in essence, the program as a support to literacy and education efforts in these war-torn areas, has toned down the barrier that has been existing for years.  “The pencil served as bridge between the soldiers and the  children.  In reaching out to the children, we have reached out to teachers and parents as well, who turned out to be very appreciative to the Marines’ efforts,” Quemado elaborated.

The pencils extended to erasers, and the erasers brought in chalk for the teachers.

“We started the project with some 3000 ballpens with a Tausug statement that meant, ‘Genuine relations bridge to lasting peace’.  I believe that genuine intent is the primary ingredient to genuine relations,” Quemado stressed.

2Lt Famulag PN(M) shared that the program is sometimes integrated with the feeding program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), as the Marines work closely with the local Social Welfare Officer, Mrs. Emma Tolentino.

“Through the Pencil Patrol Program, we have peacefully crossed even highly critical areas, such as Lumapid in Talipao, and others which have long been identified as red areas being lairs of the Abu Sayyaf Group,” Famulag added.

To date, MBLT2 has won the hearts and minds of children in Pantao Elementary School, Palan Elementary School, Lumapid and Talipao Proper Elementay School, Day Care Centers in Lunggang, Kulasi, and Matatal all in Maimbung town.

“In this project, I designated the junior officers to act as frontliners because they are the ones who are likely to serve longer in the area, and this would bring in a semblance of sustainability,” Quemado said.

Soon, Pencil Patrol will be moving forward to the island municipalities in Pata, Siasi and Pandami.

Indeed, as LtC Quemado said, from the usual combat patrol bringing arms, the Marines have crossed the lines as bearers of the flags of peace.  And this story began with pencils. (Frencie Carreon, The PhilSouth Angle)

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