‘Bakwit’ valedictorian’s wish: ‘Sana araw-araw graduation’

Amir Mawallil

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‘Bakwit’ valedictorian’s wish: ‘Sana araw-araw graduation’
'Sa totoo lang po, naiisip ko na sana araw-araw na lang ang graduation dahil walang military operations'

COTABATO, Philippines – On Monday morning, while the air was stale and memory of the previous days’ heavy military bombardment remained fresh, Norombai Utto delivered an emotional valedictory address that moved everyone in the audience. 

It was a day when the whole of Maguindanao province was able to take the most needed respite from the war that interrupted the lives of the civilians who were forced to leave their homes or be caught in the crossfire.

It was the same war that threatened the dreams of young Moro like Utto, the class valedictorian of Hji. Salik National High School in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano – the place that recently became very popular following the botched operation that resulted in the death of more than 60 people, including civilians, rebels, and members of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police.

In her speech before 48 other high school graduates, the 17-year-old daughter of an overseas Filipino worker and a farmer, lamented how the military offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) imperiled the peace painstakingly built over the years between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The military has declared a ceasefire with the BIFF for 3 days to give way to the peaceful conduct of the graduation rites in communities affected by the offensive.


Utto, who is also a bakwit (evacuee), said she wants an end to the war in Mindanao.

Sa totoo lang po, naiisip ko na sana araw-araw na lang ang graduation dahil walang military operations (The truth is, I wish graduation day happens  everyday for the military operations to stop),” said Utto.

She said the military offensive against the BIFF resulted in the suffering of the civilians.

“Only recently, our dreams have been threatened again. Once again, the flames of war were fanned and it disrupted our peace,” she said, adding that “and now the peace we built over the years was replaced by mourning, confusion, and grief.”

The war, she said, would have not happened if only those who are backing it know how difficult it is for the civilians. 

“If only they go through what we go through, and if only they understand our history, perhaps it would not be hard for us to unite for peace,” she said.

As of March 28, the number of internally displaced persons has remarkably reduced to 91,602 from more than 120,000 individuals last week.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia said some of the evacuees have returned upon the go signal given by the local officials who made an assessment of the ground situation.

However, Alamia noted the fresh fighting between government soldiers and members of BIFF in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town – where a number of soldiers were reportedly killed.

“Praying that this will not cause another massive displacement in the area,” lawyer Alamia said.

Utto prayed the same.

“Itigil na po ninyo ang  giyera (Stop this war),” she said

“Sa halip na kaguluhan ang inyong suportahan, sana po ay sa edukasyon kayo  mamuhunan, at nang kaalaman at hindi takot ang maging pundasyon ng kapayapaan sa ating bayan.” 

(Instead of supporting war, I am hoping that you support and invest in our education – that education, and not fear, becomes the foundation of peace in our land.)

Utto and the other top 10 students from her class received scholarship grants from the ARMM regional government.

“We agree that we should focus more on assisting our students as they pursue their dreams,” said Gov. Mujiv Hataman. “Their dreams are reflective of our longtime dream of peace and development and we know that these can only be achieved if we devote our efforts and resources on things that give them the opportunity to become productive citizens – if we take them away from the conditions that allow them to join wars.” – Rappler.com

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