Monday, November 9, 2009

Teaching was his passion and vocation in life...

Every victim has a face. It is with deep pain that I share the picture of this man, respected and loved by many in an island province down South.

The one you see on this blog entry is that of Gabriel "Bong" Canizares, the school principal in Jolo, Sulu beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf Group.

When I arrived home this evening, it took me a while before I opened my computer to join the rest of the ON-LINE world.I did not open my Gmail account at once and instead stayed a few minutes on Facebook before opening my Gmail--and among the messages in my INBOX was from a staff in the Department of Education who e-mailed this picture. I remember inquiring about this, to DepED Secretary Jesli Lapus mid-morning but completely forgotten about it as I went on with my day's schedule.

When I saw his face--I thought he is someone I may have met in the past in the many years that I covered Sulu beginning in the early 90s. I made a mental note to ask my other friends in Sulu like Ed General, Ed Gambali...if he was among those whom we met in some coverage about consultation meetings related to a crisis in Sulu---usually---another case of kidnapping.

But even if he's a total stranger to me---to you---to all of us---the face here that smiles back at us in this picture gives us an idea on how he labored his time and effort in his profession as educator in Sulu.

Lapus in a statement said: The entire DepED family is shocked and grieves with the family of one of our best performing principals, Mr. Gabriel Canizares.A key catalyst in teacher trainings with Synergia in Sulu, he is a great loss to efforts to improve the quality of education of our children in the area. We condemn this heinous act committed against the people of ARMM. Violence creates more sufferings and sabotaging education by harming tachers will have dire consequences in the attainment of peace and progress."

The severed head of 36-year old school principal was recovered at a gas station in Jolo town at around 5 a.m., said Major David Hontiveros, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command. Canizares was abducted by armed men suspected to be Abu Sayyaf bandits last October 19, eight days after Irish priest Michael Sinnot in Pagadian City last October 11 by armed men suspected to be allied with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

According to AFP spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner Jr. Canizares’ case was “not a simple kidnap for ransom” incident."Prior to his (Canizares) kidnapping, marami ng threats sa buhay niya. And dun sa sasakyan, siya lang ang dinukot ng mga bandido (there have been a lot of threats to his life. He was the only one taken by the bandits in the vehicle)," Brawner said.

The people of Sulu are used to news of violence but this one shocked and angered many according to Jolo municipal mayor Hussin Amin. Who would not be?

It was reported that the non-payment of ransom amounting to P2-million pesos was the reason Canizares was beheaded. That maybe true as far as the parameters of the ASG or other bandits in the area is concerned. But having covered conflict related stories in Mindanao, Sulu in particular for nearly two-decades now--I did not take that reasoning pointblank.

The Philippine National Police too said in a statement that the beheading maybe linked with the arrest of a top MILF commander. The MILF as an organization has long been suspected of providing sanctuary to the ASG, something that they always deny and belie in media. You must have heard Ed Kabalu's statement about this a hundred times. The intelligence report gathered by the PNP about the arrest of an MILF commander and the beheading may also be true given the fact that the ASG has indeed sought protection in areas known to be lairs of the MNLF in the past.

But as I ponder the sad news about the beheading of Canizares---my mind brought me to another possible angle on this story. Just last week, I received an e-mail from a source in Sulu and with that email are attachments of pictures from the swearing in of some 2,000 Civilian Volunteers or CVOs in Sulu, all armed,ready to wage battle side by side with government troops anytime.

In Sulu, these CVOs have another name, unofficial, uttered in whispers:"private army."

They underwent rigorous training on the art of modern and jungle warfare and have been trained to use modern rifles--a bush rifle type, one source told me--a weapon that has yet to see action in the battled tested grounds of Sulu.

But how does one measure the performance of those 2,000 plus armed CVOs or auxiliary force when there's no on going and actual war happening to begin with?

Create one? Is this the answer here?

What incident would be condemnable enough to wage an active war in the field again?--Something like this one? The beheading of Canizares? ---I sure hope the answer is NO!Certainly NOT.

But then mind took me again to another time---stories of the MAGIC-8, civilian forces armed figting side by side with government troops against the Moro National Liberation Front in the early 70s, of the burning of Jolo in 1973---a period referred to in history as Martial Rule.

And then there's this twin bombing again this morning adding to the other two last week in Metro Manila. Some dots connect---and I hope these "dots" do not.

In the meantime--let me set aside these thoughts that popped out of nowhere and instead end by adding my voice in honoring the man---this man,Gabriel "Bong" Canizares, for the service he extended to the students of Sulu.

When I was a hostage for 98-days in Sulu, at least two of those who guarded me begged me to teach them how to read using that old woman's magazine cover (MOD-old size) with Patricia Javier on the cover. When I was released on the morning of April 27, 2002---one of my guards, NOUPAL said, "Magsukol, Kaingatan na ako Magbasa." He said, thank you, I know now how to read.

This thing I knew as TRUTH: In the hearts of many youngsters in Sulu, many yearn for real education. Many of them believe that education is the way to free them from the pains of poverty, violence and discrimination.

We honor the memory of Gabriel "Bong: Canizares because he responded to the yearning of many and showed them that yes---education opens doors and that it is possible and not just something they imagine or dream of acquiring.

This face you see on this page lived a life that was meaningful and selfless in service of other, a true hero every Filipino can be proud of. (END)

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