Tireless, hardworking, and dedicated, the educator is greatly missed by students and other teachers.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – September came with sadness for the Lumad of Davao del Norte, as they mourned the death of their classmate, Obello Bay-ao, who was killed last Sept. 5, but also the unexpected passing of a dear friend and teacher, Ronnie Garcia.
Garcia, 29, was the executive director of Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. (STTICLCI) in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. He died of cardiac arrest last Sept. 2.
Garcia, a tribe scholar belonged to the Mansaka tribe in Compostela Valley. He started as a volunteer teacher of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) in 2005, serving his fellow Lumad.
Rorelyn Mandacawan, 17, a Grade 10 student at Salugpongan said it was heartbreaking that Garcia, who they call as Sir Ronnie, passed away early in his life. She knew Garcia since she was six years old as a student in Salugpongan’s literacy and numeracy program. She described him as a nice and kind person, “Hindi siya maldito.”
“There are many bad people there – the oppressors and the butcher members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They are the ones who should have died and not Sir Ronnie,” Mandacawan told Bulatlat in an interview.
She also remembered him as someone who always encouraged them especially during the times when attacks against their school were unabated.
The students and his colleagues at the STTICLCI at the time of his passing were in the National Capital Region for the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya when they heard the news. They were shocked, said volunteer teacher Ramel Miguel. They never knew Garcia had any illnesses nor did he complain of anything about his health.
Although they are saddened with Garcia’s untimely passing, Miguel said this would not weaken their struggle. Garcia would be an inspiration for them to continue their fight for their ancestral land and right to self-determination.
Miguel has worked as a volunteer teacher for the past four years at STTICLCI. In those years, he saw Garcia’s dedication to his work, being true to his commitment to serve the people.
Garcia was a hardworking person who slept for only about two hours, immediately starting to work when he woke up. When asked about lighter moments with Garcia, he could not recall any. They would hold more than eight hours of meeting and after that Garcia would return to his other remaining tasks as school administrator.
“He was busy with all the work in the school. He did not waste a single moment. If not attending a meeting, he would be in his computer to get the paper work done,” he told Bulatlat in an interview.
Garcia was a teacher at STTICLCI before he became Basic Education Principal in 2014. He became STTICLCI’s executive director in 2016.
Garcia graduated at the University of Mindanao in Tagum City, Davao Del Norte with a degree of Elementary Education. In 2015, he obtained a Certificate in Education Management and also became a candidate for Master of Education Management at the University of Southern Philippines in Davao City.
Miguel said that Garcia could easily get a job with a higher salary and benefits, but chose to stay with his fellow Lumad. “With his credentials, he could apply for a position at the Department of Education but he did not do it,” he said.
Being a Lumad himself Garcia knew how difficult life was for them, he said.
“He was more comfortable serving the oppressed people, most specially the Lumad,” Miguel said.
Fighting up to his last breath
For Miguel, the young educator was worn out by the continuous harassment against him and other teachers, which could have led to his untimely passing. He was being tailed by intelligence agents wherever he went, even in the hospital where he spent his last few days, he said.
Teachers and other staff of alternative schools in Mindanao are wary for their safety, specially after the killing of Emerito Samarca, executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Livelihood Development Inc.
State agents and paramilitary forces have threatened Garcia, and even came to his house asking his relatives about his whereabouts.
Garcia also witnessed the illegal arrest of Amelia Pond, regional coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and also a teacher and researcher of STTICLCI.
Miguel said Garcia requested to be cremated even though he and his family were actually against it. “He said he’s sure that the military would get his body from the grave to get a reward.”
Miguel is referring to the P100, 000 ($1,965) bounty that soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines get for every killing or capture of a New People’s Army guerrilla.
“It is painful that he is gone. There are many wicked people out there like in the AFP, why him? He could help as many Lumad as he could to attain their right to education and self-determination,” Miguel said.
But they accepted the fact that people’s life would come to an end, be it in the war zone or succumbing to illnesses. Garcia’s dedication to work and courage would remain with them, said Miguel.
“He will be our inspiration. We, the nationalist teachers will stand and unite to fight for the Lumad’s dream to attain education,” he added.
Read also: The Immortal Service of Ronnie Garcia