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BASILAN, Philippines – “Tama na ang luha at dugo (Stop the bloodshed and tears),” Dr Arlyn Jawad Jumao-as said in front of over a thousand children from all over Sumisip town in this province, gathered at the “Children of War, a Festival of Love and Peace” on Thursday, October 4.
Sumisip has been one of the conflict hotspots here, as the town has been a constant witness to firefights between government troops and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). In every clash, children are among the inevitable victims, affected not only physically but emotionally.
“Tuwing giyera, ang pinaka-kawawa ay ang mga bata (When there is war, chidren suffer the most),” Sumisip Mayor Gulam Hataman said at the event.
Jumao-as founded Save the Children of War Basilan in 2014 to help Basilan youth move past living in conflict through psychosocial support.
There was a symbolic turnover of toy guns to the AFP during the event, to show the youth’s commitment to peace in the region.
Colonel John Divinagracia had words of hope for Basilan, especially for its young residents. “Ang Basilan ay secured na. Ang Basilan ay may pag-asa (Basilan is secured. There is hope for Basilan),” he said.
“Ang mga sundalo ang pinaka-unang ayaw makipaglaban kahit kami ay nagsanay (Soldiers don’t want to engage in war the most, though we’ve trained for it),” he added.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government plays a vital role in reducing armed conflict in Basilan, and in assuring rebel returnees, including the youth, of their proper reintegration to society.
“Dapat tayo mag-invest sa mga bata. Strategic ito dahil ang future ng ating bayan ay nasa mga bata (We should invest in children. This is strategic because the future of our nation lies in the youth),” said ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman.
Through such words of encouragement and multisectoral efforts such as the festival, Jumao-as hopes Basilan youth will be able to realize their big dreams too. She asked kids what profession they’d like to have in the future, and almost all wanted to lead and bring about change.
“Ang mga bata ay gusto maging mayor (The children want to become mayor),” she shared.
Here are other photos of the event, all taken by Martin San Diego.