Saturday, February 7, 2009

Taking the Flack for Helping Poor Zambo Kids

Taking the Flack for Muslim Kids

My friend Charlie Agatep – the recognized modern-day Dean of Public Relations – has gifted our A-Book-Saya Group (ASG) five used computers to be made available to poor Christian and Muslim kids in Zamboanga City.

For his generous gesture, the chair of the Euro RSCG and president of the Agatep Associates Inc. – the country’s premier advertising, marketing and PR firms – recently found himself under fire for from those who resented him using “Abu Sayyaf lair” to describe the areas where the computers and books will be brought to.

Unfortunately, it was I who made the caption in question and which appeared in the Manila Bulleting, Malaya, Business World, Business Mirror and the Manila Times.

And one of those who queried Charlie on the word was my kababayan David Santos. So here’s the email I sent to David to explain my choice of words. Do read on because it says much about what is happening in that troubled city of mine.

Hi David,

It’s an honor to be communicating with you because I only see you on television reporting out of my beloved hometown Zamboanga City.
As to your query relative to the phrase “Abu Sayyaf lair,” that came from me as CSR Guru Charlie Agatep correctly pointed out.

I know that such phrase will kick up storm in Zamboanga City as it desperately tries to project a veneer of peace and stability. But I am willing to risk condemnation if only to help my parent, brothers and sister and other relatives in Manicahan and Sacol Island sleep better at night.

You see as far back as I can remember, Sacol Island – which is about 10-minute boat ride away from Manicahan – has been considered as “MNLF country.” I should know because in my younger years at the Manicahan Elementary School, we would jump into fox holes under the house when we see the now vintage Tora-Tora planes circling over Sacol and dropping bombs.

As we grew up, we learned to adjust to the sight and sound of planes flying and bombs going off and the ground shaking that we actually cheered when that happens because that would mean the dismissal of classes.

Back then, there was relative peace in Manicahan with suspected MNLF families living in Manicahan Poblacion and Sacol Island respecting our peace. My late dad Armando Nunez Nocum – Manicahan’s longest serving barangay captain – earned the respect from Muslims both in Sacol and Poblacion. Although he and his CAFGUs sometimes have to exchange fires with truant MNLF rebels, they generally left us in peace.

Then the Abu Sayyaf came to town. Their rise brought fear into the hearts of everyone in Manicahan – both Christians and Muslims. Suddenly there was what we called “love letters’’ from suspected ASG commanders asking some of my relatives to pay up or face the prospect of kidnapping. Even retired teachers or affluent Muslims were not spared.

Suddenly there were numerous talks of kidnap victims being brought to Sacol Island. Terror hit home when one of my uncles – you may ask my cousin Councilor Elong Nativida for his name – was kidnapped and brought to Sacol Island.

Then a former principal from nearby Cabaluay was also kidnapped and she too was brought to Sacol where reports said she was raped night and day by teenage members of the Abu Sayyaf.

Teachers in Manicahan Poblacion, including my sister, were terrorized by children who were open about the fact that their fathers and relatives are ASG members. These children would threaten their teachers who are strict to them. Pretty soon, Christian students started leaving the Poblacion Elementary School which is now exclusively serving Muslim students.

Two years ago, talks were ripe about kidnap victims seeing the PLDT tower in Poblacion while in captivity. This meant that kidnappers have become so brazen that they no longer see the need to take the victims out to Sacol Island but were keeping them right in Manicahan.

My mother confirmed this because some of the suspected ASG members were her students. She lamented that many of them were smart. How depressing.

So, for years now, people in Manicahan have been living in constant fear. And if you have relatives having been kidnapped and living in fear, what would you do? Certainly you would throw verbal niceties out the window and call Sacol and Manicahan for what it really is – an Abu Sayyaf lair. The kidnapping of the three teachers only confirmed this.

But how many more will have to be kidnapped, raped and killed for us to finally face the reality that we have a serious peace and order problem in Zamboanga City’s East Coast? Should we start doing so only when members of the Lobregat, Santos, Fabian, Velasco, Enriquez or other prominent families get kidnapped in Manicahan, Sacol, Sangali, Bolong or Cabaluay?

In the face of this harsh reality in my barangay, I did not cry wolf and condemned the kids of the ASG. In my view, they are as much victims as we are of government neglect and indifference. Please bring your television crew to the Manicahan-Poblacion Elementary School for you to see how the neglected school serves as a breeding grown of disgruntled future terrorists.

Instead of acting as an alarmist, I worked hard to bring books and other stuff to both Christian and Muslim children in Manicahan and Sacol Island. I have been doing this for about seven years now without fanfare and without announcing my deed to the local media, many of whom are my friends. After all, I am just an ordinary Chavacano who happens to be married to a Muslim.

However, my low-key effort to build the first Kristiyano-Islam (Kris) Peace Library finally got attention this time because my friend and generous benefactor Mr. Agatep came into the picture. However, I don’t mind the criticism heaped upon me and Mr. Agatep as long as the on-line discussions serve to bring attention to the peace problem in the East Coast.

I hope our compoblanos will turn criticism to actual support for my dream to show ASG kids that there is a better way out of poverty than the barrel of a gun. What we do now may not have an immediate effect, but at least we are doing something to intervene and change the young minds of our poor Muslim and Christian’s children into seeing education as the most effective way out of poverty.

In doing so, we are also showing them that they are still part of the Philippine Republic and there are Christians and Muslims in Manila and the city proper of Zamboanga who still care for them.

I hope I could count on your help. I also appreciate you not exposing this letter or my relatives in the local press so as not to further endanger them. I feel my kindness towards Muslims in Manicahan and Sacol Island and the fact that I’m married to a Tausug are among the reasons why they have not yet kidnap any member of my immediate family.

Gracias mi amigo David.

Armand Dean Natividad Nocum
President and CEO
Dean & Kings Legal Public Relations Firm

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