A genuinely peaceful community will have paved roads, at least that is what Ate Cherlita believes as the key to her communities’ peace in the future.
Ate Cherlita is a Bae (ba-i), a title given to a recognized woman leader in the Manobo community of Huwangan in the Village of St. Christine, the Municipality of Lianga, Surigao Del sur.
Her family is originally from a bigger Manobo community in the neighboring province of Agusan Del sur but when she was eight years-old they decided to relocate.
The family of Ate Cherlita is a typical farming family, they either have no land at all or were forced to sell it because of economic hardships. It was the latter on their case.
Luckily, they knew about land being distributed for free in another Manobo community in Lianga. They were not complete strangers to area as some of their relatives were there ahead.
Their family thrived and Ate Cherlita was able to eventually have her own. Her husband is now a Datu, a traditional leader in the community.
The main livelihood of Ate Cherlita’s family since then was farming abaca and copra. Growing abaca till harvestable, tending to coconut trees and processing it to extract copra is difficult enough and success is not always guaranteed.
However, the real challenge is transporting these goods from their farms to the market. Farmers usually consolidate their goods so they can hire just one motorcycle to transport it and divide the cost. Still, the expenses take from their already meager income.
Ale Cherlita has nine children, four of which are now professionals while others are still in school. It was hard but they had help. They were able to access scholarships and in the two occasions that they were in an IDP camp, well-meaning groups and individuals were also able to help.
“The conflict will always be there. You have to survive. In my case, I was still able to send my children to school, four of them already finished College.”
The armed encounters between government soldiers and the forces of the communist New People’s Army started long before they came to Lianga. But her firs experience of the armed conflict began in 1982. In 1988 her family first experienced a bakwit.
It’s difficult to count how many times families from many areas of Barangay Diatagon hear of armed encounters near their communities but they do not leave immediate unless these “felt near.”
However, in 2014, what they experienced was different. The community itself was attacked by a group called Magahat, killing an IP school administrator and two others. This was the second time that Ate Cherlita and her family became bakwits.
If the road conditions were to indicate the state of peace, then it is still really rocky, sometimes muddy, bumpy and full of twists, turns and curves.
Ate Cherlita knows that the conflict is complicated, she describes it as “a competition for control of the Philippines” and a “clash of interests”.
In her “basic” understanding, she believes that no member of her community would want to join an armed group, be it the Armed Forces of the Philippines or the NPA, “if people are given their due.”
“Kung matagaan silag insakto, dili sila maglisod (if they are given their due, they would not have to suffer),” she said.
The development of infrastructures in her community, symbolized by a paved road seems to be what she has in mind.
But in a very communal level, Ate Cherlita believes that the conflict has become personal.
“For example, those who join the NPA did so because it is fueled by their youth but when they encounter hardships
In a very communal level, however, Ate Cherlita believes that the conflict has become personal.
“Those who joined fear soldiers who have abused them (or their relatives) in the past,” she said.
However, she also believes that “war is not permanent in an area”.
“There can be dialogues, call those who are involved to sit,” which she said can be facilitated by women like how they do it with quarrels and misunderstandings in the community.
“We have become capable. In the past we can only do small task but now we even submit proposals for funding and implement big projects. We are mediators working close with our Indigenous People’s Mandatory Representatives. We handle cases of Violence Against Women. With regards the conflict, we are witness to the dialogues in 1988 and the latest which is 2014. We can do more for peace,” she said.
Ate Cherlita believes that “(t)here will come a day when people have enough to be not discontented and join (armed groups), there will be no more soldiers compelled to hunt them also.”
“A paved road can do so much for peace, but the road to peace is not yet paved” she said.