The Trail to Masiag from Bagumbayan (Sultan Kudarat)
…profile of the Filipinos’ endeavor to survive
By Apolinario Villalobos
(PHOTOS BY RENE AQUINO, Administrative staff – Masiag Annex/BNHS)
The winding and muddy ribbon of trail shown in the accompanying photos leads to the Masiag Annex of the Bagumbayan National High School. Bagumbayan is a young municipality of Sultan Kudarat province. It is peopled by those from the older towns of Isulan, Esperanza, and Tacurong, with some purportedly, to be current migrants from the Visayas. During the middle of ‘70s, Bagumbayan figured as one of the most affected areas in Cotabato, caught in the midst of altercation between the Islamic “Black Shirts” and Christian “Ilaga”. And, Masiag then, was dotted by huts of farmers which were distributed kilometers away from each other. At the height of evacuation, Bagumabayan was listed as among the origins of both displaced Christian and Muslim families, aside from Esperanza, Lambayong, Tinumiges, Udtong, Katiko, Buluan, Datu Paglas, and unknown sitios beside the Ligwasan Marsh.
When Claudio Estante opened the Department of Social Welfare office in Tacurong to cover the Sultan Kudarat province, the primary purpose was to serve the evacuees, I was the lone staff initially hired and the branch was under Region XI based in Davao City, with Agrinelda Miclat at its helm as Director, but today, due to expansion program of the agency, the branch is under Region XII. As we were overwhelmed by the burden of statistics gathering and relief distribution, additional personnel were hired from Notre Dame, and which included, Ruel Lucentales, Renato Hingco, Dominador Lictawa, Mildred Palabrica-Balili and a little later, Felizardo Lazado. Teddy Lapuz volunteered his services for the organization of displaced youth. Soon afterwards, full time Social Workers were sent by the Regional Office to augment the workforce of the Welfare Aides and the lone Youth Welfare volunteer.
The trails today are not what we used before when we visited Bagumbayan, as they were more of ruts impressed by wheels of carts and sleds drawn by carabao or water buffalo. Relief distribution was concentrated at Esperanza, but occasionally, on “clear” days, distribution effort was extended up to Bagumbayan to reach out to those who refuse to leave their farm. From where we were posted with military escorts, intermittent exchange of volleys of shots could be heard. Several times, Esperanza and Bagumbayan were cordoned off which practically deferred the travel of buses and private vehicle to Cotabato City for days. DSW was closely in touch with the 12th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army at Isulan for updated news on the situation of the towns surrounding Tacurong. There were days that we would encounter jeepneys loaded with casualties and wounded. The two hospitals in Tacurong – Tamondong and Eugenio were always full as they admitted both Christian and Muslim patients.
Today, with relative peace that envelops the province of Sultan Kudarat, the local government is exerting much effort in reaching out to those who have gone beyond the last frontier, particularly, toward the slopes of Mt. Dagoma which is profusely covered with forest of hard wood that draw illegal loggers. An aging former lawmaker even admitted on TV that he had been holding on to his logging concessions in that area for a long time in a desperate effort to explain his tremendous wealth, perhaps to convince the people that he did not dip his fingers into the coffers of the government as did some of his colleagues who were involved in “pork barrel” scams.
Teachers and office staff of the Masiag Annex are from the Main Bagumbayan National High School. They practically trek their way to their assigned post, rain or shine. Those with single-engine motor bikes are fortunate, though. These altruistic teachers do not hesitate to sacrifice part of their measly wage to buy instruction materials needed to be effective in their vocation. Situations such as shown in photos have necessitated the use of “habal-habal”, motorcycles used as some sort of a commuter service for an affordable fee.
For the resourceful Filipinos in Mindanao, what has been kindled by an endeavor for survival has definitely laid down the foundation for progress…as Mindanao is full of such opportunities. Meanwhile, the Bagumbayanons and Masiagnons are patiently treading along the trail towards the fulfillment of one!