Can Sulu Children Study In These Ruined Buildings?
POVERTY AND government neglect are not alien to me.
I grew up in a very poor village in North Cotabato and studied in the public schools which did not even have a library or even just textbooks.
But what I saw in Sulu yesterday really shocked me.
Upon arriving in Jolo..., I held a consultative meeting with Governor Totoh Tan, his father, former governor Sakur Tan, and officials of the province.
After that I was led on a tour of several school buildings in Jolo and the nearby areas.
What I saw gave me a deep understanding on why Sulu has a 78% literacy rate, the lowest in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a poverty incidence of 61%, and an endless cycle of violence caused by armed groups and the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group.
The Hadji Butu School of Arts and Trades, one of the oldest schools in Sulu where national artist Abdulmari Imao graduated, looked like an abandoned military concentration camp where high school and college students held classes in buildings which were constructed shortly after World War II.
I toured the school buildings and I felt weak looking at the ceilings ready to fall on the students and facilities which looked older than me.
I also went to an elementary school in downtown Jolo where three to four Tausug and Samal (Badjao) children share one desk and the classroom was divided into two to accommodate two classes.
The classrooms were without ventilation and dark but there was no electric fan or even just a light.
Gov. Tan then brought me to a public school in Kulasi Village near Maimbung town and it was another shocking experience as the chairs used by the students were so rusty that they could die of tetanus.
What brought about this sad state of education in Sulu?
Former Gov. Sakur Tan blames it on the distance of the Province from the Center of Government in Manila and even with the ARMM Regional Government which was established years later.
I have decided that I will no longer bother myself with finding out who is to blame.
What is important is that the school system in Sulu must be given immediate assistance.
If we fail to do that, we could see more unschool boys joining the Abu Sayyaf as they are indoctrinated by extremist groups and girls not finishing their education and ending up mired in poverty again.
Before I left, I assured the teachers that I will report to the President what I saw in the schools of Sulu and upon my return things will definitely change for the better for the children of the province.
President Rodrigo Duterte holds a dinner meeting with Sulu Gov. Totoh Tan and his father, former governor Sakur Tan and some mayors at the Malacañang Palace.