BAGUIO CITY—Former Sen. Santanina Rasul and her daughter, Amina Rasul Bernardo, urged Malacañang to make adult literacy a feature of the Bangsamoro transition plan that is taking shape to end conflict in parts of Mindanao.
Speaking at this year’s National Literacy Conference at Teachers’ Camp here on Thursday, Rasul and Bernardo said half of the 1.2 million voting population of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), who will benefit from a peace settlement, are illiterate.
Bernardo, president of the Literacy for Peace and Development Foundation (Lipad), said 80 percent of the ARMM’s labor force and self-employed could neither read nor write.
Unless the government improves labor force literacy, investors will end up hiring literate workers from Luzon and the Visayas, reigniting the very issues that triggered conflicts in Mindanao, she said.
Adult literacy is “the missing link” to the peace transition, Bernardo told conference participants, many of them teachers and local government officials from various regions.
But she stressed that the ARMM illiterates themselves want the educational avenues opened up.
Citing a survey of Lipad’s clientele, Bernardo said many illiterates expressed the need to learn so they could draw money from automated teller machines unaided, cast their votes during elections without assistance and communicate with family, friends or business clients through text messaging.
“They know voice charges are more expensive than sending text messages,” Rasul said on Wednesday, when she discussed the program with the Inquirer.
“We also spoke to this woman who had a clear candidate in mind [in a recent election] but while that candidate had a short name, she noticed that the person assisting her had put down a long name,” she said.
Rasul, president of the Magbassa Kita Foundation Inc., said she began her literacy campaign in the 1960s but had seen progress only recently.
She said they were supported by local governments; the Philippine Marines, who trained to become literacy teachers in Tawi-Tawi; international aid organizations; and a telecommunications company that was drawn to the crusade because of a potentially large market.
Bernardo said Lipad conducted classes in 25 percent of the 2,490 barangays in the ARMM. “That’s about 619 villages and we are [present] in 36 percent [or 42] of the 116 ARMM municipalities. We have graduated 52,000 adult learners. We have not counted the people taught by the Marines. If we add them, we may have graduated 54,000 adults as of Sept. 5,” she said.
She said the foundations have trained more than 842 literacy teachers in the ARMM, who have expertise in teaching reading lessons using the mother tongue.
Testimonies from graduates, such as a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander, who acknowledged that learning how to read helped him follow the peace process, “are triggers for our strong lobbying that literacy should really be considered a principal strategy for the ARMM as we work on [peace] transitions,” Bernardo said.
She said the government and the MILF have formed a transition commission that intends to draft a basic law converting the ARMM into a new regional entity.
“What they want is more effective autonomy. But here’s our problem: How autonomous can a region be if half of their citizens are illiterate and do not understand the concept of governance because they have been isolated due to their illiteracy?” Bernardo said.
Illiteracy also explains why the ARMM ranks the lowest in the country’s human development index and why it remains the poorest region, she said.
The ARMM’s life expectancy range and its standards of living are “closer to the undeveloped parts of Africa [in rank] than it is to Manila,” Bernardo said.
She said the more telling information about the ARMM involves employment because many productive citizens end up selling street food for a living because of their illiteracy.
“Even if you bring billions of investments to the ARMM, if this is the capacity of our workers, how are they going to avail themselves of the opportunities? What will happen? You put up a business but where will your workers come from? Of course, outside the ARMM… It could create a new set of triggers for conflict,” she said. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon