NGO gives identity, hope in life to undocumented Muslim children PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 26 January 2012 13:15

Widowed two years ago, 47 year-old Badjao mother Patma Dapii is now entirely dependent on her 21-year old son Muktar, who drives a pedicab in their Muslim village of Arena Blanco, Zamboanga City, to earn meager, hand-to-mouth money.     Because she wants him to have a steadier job and earn more to feed her and his four younger siblings, she applied for and recently received a “katarangan sin paggunting” (Tausug rough equivalent of a baptismal certificate) that he would need in applying for a job.

Muktar’s two younger brothers and two younger sisters also received along with his their individual “baptismal certificates” from the Jabu-Jabu (The Calling), Inc.  during an awarding program it held at the barangay hall of Arena Blanco last January 13.  

The non-government organization Jabu-Jabu released a total of 30 such identification documents that morning to the delighted Badjao mothers of their recipient children.  The registry for the certificates is deposited with the local mosque’s imam (Islamic priest) who officiated the children’s “baptism” and with the barangay office, too.    (Traditionally, Filipino imams do not issue baptismal or death certificates.)

Under a recently-made tie-up between Jabu-Jabu and Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) research department, local AM radio station DXAS of Far Eastern Broadcasting Corporation (FEBC), and the city government’s Civil Registrar Office, the baptismal certificates will be used as secondary document or basis for the eventual issuance of standard official birth certificates to the as-yet colorum Badjao children and youths. 

“We will submit copies of these certificates to the civil registrar and it will use the information in them to prepare your children’s official birth certificates,” WMSU research chief Chona Sarmiento explained to the mothers during the ceremony.

Jabu-Jabu president Jaafar Kimpa almost single handedly started the Katarangan Sin Paggunting project in 2007 after he noted that most Badjao  and many Tausug children grow old without the benefit of their birth being registered with government.   Some public schools refuse to enroll such undocumented children; or, when they would, the kids would come back in the next school year using another name and so poses a problem to their school records, Kimpa noted.

This absence of proper or documented identification is one of the reasons why Muslim Filipinos have a high illiteracy level, Kimpa said.

Todate,  Kimpa’s project has issued over 2,000 certificates through local mosques in at least 17 barangays mostly in Zamboanga City, but some in Sulu, Basilan and Manila as well.  It had been partly supported by Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ) through the Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRSMP).  WMSU and FEBC made representations under the new tieup with the civil registrar, which will issue 120 birth certificates without cost to the family and the project. 

The WMSU-FEBC-Jabu-Jabu tieup will go beyond mere facilitation of birth registrations.  Covering the four barangays of Malagutay, Sinunuc, Rio Hondo and Arena Blanco – where children and adults have the highest number of unregistered births – the concerned children and any of their illiterate parents will later be enrolled in non-formal literacy classes.  The curriculum utilizing local vernacular as instruction medium will be designed by WMSU, Sarmiento said.  Teachers will come from the Department of Education.   It is a community extension program of the state-run University, she explained.
Radio Station DXAS will broadcast thrice-weekly on-the-air lesson reviews and drills, motivational information, and special announcements to support the literacy classes, station manager Rev. Emmanuel Aquino said.   My radio station is doing this as part of our “incarnational program” through which we help local communities overcome social and development issues and difficulties, he said.

Kimpa hopes to expand and pursue the “Katarangan Sin Paggunting” project since, he said, there are many thousands more of Muslim children and young adults residing in Mindanao who do not possess government-issued birth certificates.   Without the document, they are unable to pursue education, receive government benefits, get a proper job, or simply enjoy legal identity, social standing and self-esteem.   But Kimpa’s plan is hindered by logistical constraints.

During the awarding program in Arena Blanco, Jabu-Jabu officer Ustadz Sayid Nurhasan Bahjin told the hopeful mothers and children that the certificates will help them become better Muslims.  With these certificates you will better be able to get an education, he said, and when you are educated it will be easier for you to learn the peaceful teachings of Islam. — Rey-Luis Banagudos/Peace Advocates Zamboanga