Bukidnon student in Zambo standoff: “Stop the fighting so we can go back to learning”

Cyrus Kent John Ramago, 20, is a student of graphic arts at the DSWD's Area Vocational Rehabilitation Center for persons with disabilities in Mampang, Zamboanga City. Walter Balane

Cyrus Kent John Ramago, 20, from Malaybalay City is a student of graphic arts at the DSWD’s Area Vocational Rehabilitation Center for persons with disabilities in Mampang, Zamboanga City.
Walter Balane

MALAYBALAY CITY (Bukidnon News/20 September) After attending Special Education (SpEd) classes at the city central school here, 20-year old Cyrus Kent John Ramago wanted to finish a course in Mindanao’s premier training institution based in Zamboanga City for persons with disabilities. 

But the Moro National Liberation Front attacked Asia’s Latin City on September 9 just as “Kit” (as family calls him) was about to complete the six month course on graphic arts at the Area Vocational Rehabilitation Center (AVRC) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

“The war stopped our classes. I hope it will end soon. I will not go back to Zamboanga if it’s not safe yet,” he told this reporter a week after his parents rescued him from a DSWD center in Talon-talon district, where he and about 30 other children with disabilities holed up during the early days of the stand-off.

His family said he was traumatized by the experience and for several nights was crying.

Cynthia Julian, AVRC officer in charge, said via telephone Friday Kit and 17 other persons with disabilities who were training with them were evacuated to the Center for Displaced Persons, a DSWD facility in Talon-talon housing Sabah deportees.

But she added that when the pursuit operations reached the area on September 11, the evacuees were also moved to another DSWD facility, the Center for Women in San Roque.

Julian said PWDs are among those traumatized by the fighting although she noted that the effect on them will be the same with others.

But she said the problem is continuity of their classes.  Of the center’s present 36 trainees, a total of 19 of them, Kit included, have returned to their provinces for safety.

“The fighting has disrupted their learning. We are trying our best to cope (with the disruption) after the situation normalizes,” she added via telephone Friday afternoon.

Julian said as of today the local government has ordered “no work, no classess.”

“I hope the situation improves soon,” she added.

The standoff in Zamboanga City, which started 11 days ago has reportedly killed at least 80 MNLF fighters, 12 soldiers and some civilians, according to MindaNews.com.

At the start of the standoff the MNLF held some 200 civilians as hostages, but most were rescued or escaped as the fighting went on.

Cyrus Kent John Ramago, 20, a student of graphic arts at the DSWD's Area Vocational Rehabilitation Center for persons with disabilities in Mampang, Zamboanga City, sketches his description of the Zamboanga stand-off.  Walter Balane

Cyrus Kent John Ramago, 20, a student of graphic arts at the DSWD’s Area Vocational Rehabilitation Center for persons with disabilities in Mampang, Zamboanga City, sketches his description of the Zamboanga stand-off.
Walter Balane

Kit said that in transit they heard grenade explosions and non-stop gun power all day long. In the center, his sleep was the number one casualty: they were told to be awake up to midnight and sleep only from midnight to 6a.m. because of the fighting.

“But we countered it by racing in prayer. Sometimes we cracked jokes to conceal our fears,” added Kit, who has learning disability and is a scholar at the center.

He was sleeping when a housemate called his attention after hearing explosions and firing at dawn.

After getting instructions from an older housemate, he packed two bags and a suit case then ran away from the boarding house joining others to seek refuge. He recalled that he vomited blood out of panic and perhaps for the load he was carrying. Aside from clothing and his things in school, Kit noted that he packed his can goods, too.

Along the way, he saw many people carrying bags, running to and fro. Some of those he saw were armed.

Kit said he didn’t know who was firing and for him it didn’t matter.

“As long as we saw they have guns, we run away from them whoever they are,” he added.

He said the sight alone is terrifying. The noise of the fighting was worse.

“We were half relieved inside the orphanage but soon we began to worry about our classmates,” he added.

But he added that the most frightening moment was the first few moments of the experience. He said eventually “they have to learn to cope with the situation.”

A day before the attack, Kit told his family back in Bukidnon via telephone that he was homesick. Although he wouldn’t admit that he called for help, his mother Florabel, 43, said they decided to extricate him because of the risk they saw on television.

Florabel Ramago, 43, said she is angry of the war in Zamboanga because it disrupted the class of his son Cyrus Kent John Ramoga, 20, a graphics art trainee at the DSWD's Area Vocational Rehabilitation Center for persons with disabilities in Mampang, Zamboanga City. Walter Balane

Florabel Ramago, 43, said she is angry of the war in Zamboanga because it disrupted the class of his son Cyrus Kent John Ramoga, 20, a graphics art trainee at the DSWD’s Area Vocational Rehabilitation Center for persons with disabilities in Mampang, Zamboanga City.
Walter Balane

The following day Florabel and her husband, a police officer, sought the help from colleagues, seeking clearance to be able to pass on the road to Zamboanga City from Bukidnon.

Florabel, a worker at the San Isidro Cathedral here said it was a very difficult journey, where they took unusual routes just to be able to pass. They left on September 10.

Kit had to be secured from the center in San Roque to a church about 30 minutes ride on motorcycle with the help of the Philippine Red Cross. Finally, the family reunited on September 11.

But leaving wasn’t easy either for Kit.

He said he was worried about his classmates who he invited to join him in the ride home. On the day of the rescue they found out it was not safe as they will only use a motorcycle.

“I was too sorry for them because they were left behind,” he added.

Florabel said they were relieved that their son is back home. But she said she is also disappointed because Kit was supposed to complete his sessions on September 26. He was scheduled for internship in October.

“I’m angry about the fighting because it stopped the children’s learning,” she added citing that her son wanted to finish schooling; he already wanted to go back.  (Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon News.Net)