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Commentary: Speaking Out

By Ignacio R Bunye
November 2, 2008

Manila -- By the time this column sees print, my friend Armand Nocum and his Tausug wife, Annora, would have successfully brought at least 400 used books for distribution to Muslim children in the remote Sacol Island in Zamboanga City. In recent years, Sacol has been used by the Abu Sayyaf for hiding their kidnap victims. Because of extreme poverty and low literacy, Sacol has also been a favorite recruiting ground of the ASG for child warriors.

Armand explains: "Children are not only cheap, (compared to adult warriors) but their romantic notion of war and recklessness make them more than willing to kill and die for their patrons."

I first met Armand, then a reporter of a morning broadsheet, when he joined the press coverage of a European official trip of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2006. During our trip to Italy, as then Press Secretary, I took exception to a story Armand wrote (about Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi allegedly making the President wait while reportedly watching an ongoing semi-final World Cup game).

For the remainder of the trip, Armand exercised more care in checking out his facts. A Zamboangueno, and a Chavacano, he took pride in being able to engage the Spaniards in lively banter during the Madrid leg of the trip.

Little did I know then that behind the happy-go-lucky fašade was a serious-minded man and a nationalist who dreamt of lasting peace and goodwill in his native Mindanao.

Shortly after the European coverage, Armand quit the paper to pursue his peace advocacy. His initial venture to foster interfaith dialogue and understanding of Muslim culture was the establishment of Satti Grill, where he and his wife served Muslim delicacies.

A few months back, Armand appealed to friends, by email, to support his A-Book-Saya Group project. His objective was to gather and distribute books among Muslim children. Armand hopes that through the project, a book culture will somehow replace the gun culture which is very strong among the Muslims.

"(L)et's help stop this vicious cycle of poverty and violence and give them a better view of a peaceful and happier world. Nothing can deliver this message to them better than books. Let your books reach their hearts and minds while they are young," Armand pleaded.

Armand suggests books with lots of pictures because " while we take it for granted that our kids can read before reaching Grade 1, most Mindanao kids can hardly read well even in Grade VI. Picture books will surely entice them to read."

With this book venture, Armand has certainly gone another notch up from being a plain dreamer to becoming a doer. His project is one that is certainly worth supporting.

Interested readers may drop their book donations at Armand's Satti Grill House outlets at the SM Fairview Food Court, Quezon City or at the Corner of M.H. del Pilar, Ermita, Manila. Donors may contact Annora Nocum through Nos. 7992745/3393732 or 09175208013/09195897879.


Prior to going last week to San Francisco and Washington DC, to learn about the workings of the Federal Reserve and to attend a World Bank-sponsored forum on sovereign debt management, I had the happy opportunity to visit my daughter, Frannie, in Seattle. Frannie has been taking up teacher training at Eton School, a Montessori-based school located in Bellevue, just outside of Seattle.

Although the temperature was starting to dip as red and gold leaves began to fall, my wife, Mira, my daughter, a long-time friend Nancy Espiritu-Dayot and I strolled around Green Lake after having our fill of steaming clam chowder in one of the town's eating favorites. The Green Lake, known for its sparkling waters, is surrounded by a paved path 4.5 kms long, which is a favorite of strollers, joggers and cyclists. Its surrounding lush vegetation is also a beacon for wildlife like ducks, cormorants, geese and hawks.

Seattle - home of Boeing, Micosoft and Starbucks - never succumbed to the pressures of modernization. It has water everywhere (Elliott Bay, Lake Union and Lake Washington) and forests and mountains (Mt. Rainier) too.

No wonder, despite Tom Hanks being "Sleepless in Seattle", many find the place very friendly and very livable.

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