A fervent day to all of us. A heartfelt condolences and solidarity in mourning of the entire movement for losing good children of our nation (mabubuting anak ng bayan).
On February 23, 2021 two Lumad (indiginous people) volunteer teachers Chad Booc and Gelejurain Ngujo II, a community health worker Elegyn Balonga, and two accompanying drivers, Robert Aragon and Tirso Añar, were traveling from New Bataan, Davao de Oro in the South of the Philippines, where they were conducting a community visit as part of their research work. They were on their way back to Davao City, the largest city in the region, when they were massacred by state forces.
It would take five days for the victims of the New Bataan Massacre to be released to their families. I knew Chad personally as a former student and for a longer period as a fellow Save Our Schools advocate and Lumad Bakwit School teacher.
Chad had completed his degree in BS Computer Science at the UP Diliman College of Engineering in Manila. Upon graduation, Chad received multiple invitations for interviews and other work opportunities from established businesses. One reason he was one of the most sought-after graduates of UP Diliman College of Engineering was because of a mental health software he developed to help workers in the various industries.
But Chad had loftier ideals than giving capitalism a human face. The reinvigorated struggle of the national minority in the Philippines that takes its root and links up with the national liberation movement in the country, found its way to Chad’s attention and serious consideration. This people’s movement, as evidenced by Chad’s choices and undertakings, continue to attract the bravest and most brilliant young people.
The forces of reaction and counterinsurgency will say that such phenomenon is a product of communist brainwashing in the university. But the history of revolutions worldwide will tell us otherwise. All revolutions were instigated and often won by the youth. The young Marx and Engels were young intellectuals and organizers of workers when they co-wrote the Communist Manifesto. The Communards, the Bolsheviks, the Katipuneros, the Kabataang Makabayan, even the armed revolutionary movements whether in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and other parts of Asia were all founded by young people. No ageism here. It just so happens that young people do not need to be brainswashed to realize that they don’t have high stakes in the maintaining a social order in which their voices they are often dismissed or marginalized. They’ve got nothing to do with the current power structure in the sense that they did not have a hand in building it. They neither hold positions of power nor are expected to make big decisions to manage the crisis of society and make sure nothing ever changes. In other words, there is always something dangerous about being young in an old oppressive system. The question is, will the restless youth find its voice and power in building an alternative?
Chad Booc did and with such willful intensity. In one of his numerous ruminations on his work as a Lumad teacher, Chad made it very clear:
“Marami mang mga pagsubok at sakripisyo sa gawaing ito, ngunit masaya at payapa ang puso ko sa piling nila. Mahal na mahal ko sila, katulad ng pagmamahal nila sa kanilang lupang ninuno.” (There maybe a lot of challenges and sacrifices in this work, but my heart is joyful and serene when I am with them [the Lumads]. I love them so dearly, like how they love their ancestral lands).
That Chad and the rest of the New Bataan 5 were civilians is a fact that should be emphasized, and not because armed revolutionaries deserve to be murdered. The difference between the massacre of unarmed activists and revolutionary combatants must be asserted in this case because the US-Duterte government and the regimes before it embraced US Counterinsurgency in order to stop people from building alternatives to conditions of misery, hunger, poverty and inequality.
The state forces do for the accumulation of wealth. Every inch of land monopolized by landlords, compradors and foreign investors amounts to the continued dispossession of peasants and indigenous peoples. This is why counterinsurgency is not really about “defeating the insurgents” so to speak but about casting the net wider by calling the armed group a network so they can kill Lumad teachers like Chad and Jurain who are building and rebuilding Lumad Schools so that the Lumad may have an education that is responsive not only to their needs but to the needs and aspirations of the Filipino people. And what they need is not different from established human standards. Chad and the rest of the New Bataan 5 were massacred for making sure that Lumad communities will enjoy the right to ancestral domain, education, ecological food production. Chad was the target of severe political vilification and served prison time for being a devoted teacher to the Lumad youth. He was severely punished and ultimately murdered for serving the people.
Chad was a huge social media figure with thousands upon thousands of followers, in fact, over twenty-thousand on Twitter. He left us with a robust body of notes about his life with the Lumad. He was a tireless teacher teaching the world lessons he learned from his chosen people.
I had the honor of knowing Chad as a student in my class and the greater honor of witnessing how a student of mine exceeded his teacher in so many ways. Our exchanges as fellow Lumad teachers when the Lumad Bakwit School came to Diliman were very satisfying, humorous and hopeful.
It is extremely sad to lose a younger comrade. It is also joyful to be with them. Compared to comrades my age and those older than me, it is those who are younger than me who will witness the time that I will not be able to. But through them and all the work as comrades that we are doing now, I will be part of that time. That is why it is so hard to lose someone like Chad and Jurain, for it was like a part of the future is stolen and will never be taken back.
However, in spite of all, our Lumad brothers and sisters and the great struggle that bounded the teachers are still there and are continued by Lumad Schools. That is exactly where Teacher Chad and Teacher Jurain offered their lives. We will never forget you. I will strive to face the days that you will not be able to see with a constant remembrance of your unparalleled goodness and fervent determination. Highest salute! Justice for Chad, Jurain and other comrades in the New Bataan 5!
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The Call for Justice for the Bataan 5 continues!