Commentary: Children as victims and fighters


For months now, I have been part of a team preoccupied with a project aiming to give cultural and creative workshops in a disaster-prone, mining community. Enabled by the support and funding of TUKLAS Innovation Labs along with international bodies, the project is being implemented in Loacan, Itogon. As far as I know, of the ten projects in Northern Luzon, this project by Dap-ayan ti Kultura Iti Kordilyera (DKK) is one of the two innovations which have a greater focus on children and the youth. The other project, being implemented by Plot and Play, aims to use board games as educational tools for Disaster Response and Risk Management (DRRM).

I have been thinking about various things in the course of our implementation of the workshops—being back to community ground work, the challenges posed by linguistic barriers, socializing in general (from E. San Juan’s Lumang Tugtugin, Bagong Sayaw: “Hirap magpakatao, paano makikipagkapwa-tao?”). But what I wish to delve into now is the way we look at children. In a column I previously wrote for a different Baguio weekly, I talked about our ambivalent attitude towards them. On the one hand, we idealize them as sites of longed-for purity and cherished innocence (Ang sarap maging bata! Sana bata na lang uli ako etc.); on the other hand, we decry their position and equate it with immaturity (Para kang bata! Time for you to grow up!).

Our conflicted attitude towards children, as with all things, is only symptomatic of our complex social reality—what with its diverse peoples and their multiple, intersecting histories and their often conflicting interests. I recall an insight brought to me by a lecture on children’s literature I once attended. The speaker called attention to the songs children playing on the streets improvise as they play: “Wan tu tri, Asawa ni Marie, Araw gabi, Walang panti.” Or some parts of the less informal Sitsiritsit, Alibangbang: “Mama, mama, namamangka/ Pasakayin yaring bata./ Pagdating sa Maynila/ Ipagpalit ng manika.” As the speaker pointed out, there are things eerie in these songs’ lyrics. They couch—in varying degrees of explicitness—notions related to sexuality and realities of child trafficking, respectively. Childhood is not entirely enshrined in immaculate purity and innocence, after all! There are some childhood experiences which touch on the sexual, whether in passing conceptual ways as in street songs, or as we know, in more heart-breaking, if not angering ways, as in sexual abuse. This undeniable reality presents an opening that goes beyond the two extremes mentioned earlier. Here, childhood is neither heavenly beautiful nor despicably juvenile; grounded in the often unforgiving social realities, childhood becomes a site of contest, defilement, an opportunity for commodification. Rooted in actual cases, these conceptualizations of childhood must be recognized and their deep causes examined and challenged.

Yet I will not choose to tarry on the downcast. I would propose a more positive and realistic modification of the too cutesy attribution of everlasting, goody goody innocence and purity on children: the children as bearers of hope. During one of our earlier workshops in Loacan, we taught the song “Remember our Future” to the participants. We wrote the lyrics of the song on the blackboard and with the children, sang it with mellowed passions.

Productively, I was stumped by what appears a contradiction on the surface: how can you remember the future, how can you remember something that is yet to exist? Foolish me, sold to the seductions of the superficial. I maneuver: “remember” here does not seem to mean “recall” (ex. a past occurrence) but “think of.” Magiging lalong interesante ito kung dadalhin natin sa Filipino: ang “remember” sa kanta ay “alalahanin” at parehong pasok sa salitang “alalahanin” ang mga kahulugan ng “recall” (alalahanin ang nakalipas) at “think of” (alalahanin mo ang iyong magulang). (Side dish: pansinin ang gamit ni Rizal sa “panaginip” sa isa niyang sulat kay Marcelo del Pilar dated June 11, 1890: “Mayroon na ngayong halos dalawang buan na halos gabi gabi’y wala akong ibang pangarap kundi ang mga patay kong kaibigan at kamaganak.” Sa tulong ng salin ni Benedict Anderson at sa konteksto na rin ng mensahe, masasabing ginamit ni Rizal ang “pangarap” kung saan “panaginip” na ang kontemporaryo nating pakahulugan. Ganyan ka-cute ang pagbabago ng wika.)

Balik tayo sa “Remember your Children,” at balik na rin tayo sa English. The song articulates the hopefulness we ascribe to children—and it is not a passive kind of ascription, as if saying, O kayo nang bahala dyan, nasa inyo na ang future. Being an optimistic Marxist, I choose to interpret this not as the forgoing of responsibility but as the recognition of the bonds between present and future, adults and children—all histories and people in this world. In meting out this ounce of hope to children, the song does not abandon them afterwards but rather use them as inspiration in doing good in the present. This comes in varying scale—from the loving parents (Ayaw kong matulad ka sa amin anak, gusto namin maging maganda ang hinaharap mo) to the equally noble socialists (Gusto natin ng lipunan sa hinaharap na magiging kaaya-aya para sa lahat, bata man o matanda, tomboy man o bakla, hayop man o tao at iba pa. Seeking to actualize these hopes/goals/visions, both the parents and the socialists will try to excel in whatever they do—earning from their jobs, doing political work, organizing mass rallies, educating about social issues.

In the end, there is no point denying either sad realities—child abuse, social ills like poverty or injustice or political impotence that afflicts children—or the flash of hopes that are enlivened by our social dreams and our commitment to contribute to their realization. Seen more properly, the two must be seen side by side: it is precisely because of our hope and our commitment to make things better that we will not shut our eyes on the ugliness and brutalities around us, ugliness and brutalities that wound our children as they wound us. We are not to save the children; not that children alone need to be saved. We are all in this mess of a society; thus, we must have one another—child or adult, homosexual or heterosexual, Filipino or foreigner etc.—working together for something better. #


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