“Those children should be in school.”
This is what Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman said in criticism of the presence of Lumad children present in a “kampuhan” or protest camp by Indigenous People’s groups outside of the Department of Education (DepEd) office in Davao City, Mindanao.
But the Lumad children of the Ata-Manobo tribe of Talaingod, Davao del Nortewere present in the kampuhan precisely to demand the reopening of their schools which have been threatened by the military and closed down by DepEd last June.
While the lumad schools have since resumed classes, soldiers and paramilitary men have continued to threaten and harass teachers, students, and parents, therefore hindering the regular operations of the said educational institutions.
Salinhali Alliance for Children’s Concerns Secretary General Kharlo Mananoscored Soliman for her “ignorance” of the real situation of the Lumad children that led them to join the protests. “Education and participation, are two basic rights of children,” he said.
Set up by Lumad communities hand in hand with the Save Our Schools Network and other groups, the kampuhan sought to pressure DepEd to grant permits to the Salugpungan Ta Ta’nu Igkanugon Learning Center Incorporated (STTILCI) and Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation (Misfi) Academy.
The STTILCI and the Misfi Academy operate a total of 25 community schools for indigenous peoples in remote barangays in Mindanao.
Ronnie Garcia, basic education in-charge of STTILCI, meanwhile questioned the sincerity of Soliman when her office has not lifted a finger in spite of the Lumad communities’ asking government agencies for help for almost a year already.
“Since August last year, we have reported the harassments, the red tagging and the threats. But, where were the DSWD and the NCIP (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples?),” said Garcia.
“The children have all the right to participate in protests especially when the government is not doing its job for them and instead oppressing them, denying them their right to education,” he said.
The military have repeatedly sought to stop the operation of these alternative schools. According to Datu Ginom Andel of the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon from Sitio Tibukag, soldiers from the 68th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army instructed local leaders to burn the STTICLC schools in the area.
“They camped in the middle of the DepEd school and Salugpungan. They dug a foxhole, used a tarpaulin as a roof. The soldier told us: ‘You should burn that school down, because it is run by communists,’” recalled Datu Ginom.
Ginom said that the military also ordered them to kill the STTICLC teachers: “They said, if a teacher from Salugpungan arrives, we would have to kill them, because the school is owned by the New People’s Army or NPA, the teachers are NPAs themselves.”
Dr. Josephine Fadul, DepEd’s Schools Division Superintendent of Davao del Norte, meanwhile recommended the closure of 3 STTICLC schools in a letter she gave to DepEd XI Regional Director Alberto Escobarte, also alleging that the schools are run by the rebels.
Fadul moreover requested the construction of a public high school in Butay, Talaingod that will be managed by military personnel as para-teachers.
Save Our Schools Network Spokesperson Rius Valle condemned these allegations, saying that all the STTCICLC schools are accredited by DepEd’s Central Office, having complied with voluminous requirements through its Indigenous Peoples Education Office.
According to Valle, these incidents of harassments against the tribal schools only show the real face of the counter-insurgency program of the Aquino administration.
“Contrary to the claims of peace and development flouted by the AFP in the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan, government troops have only sowed terror and displayed interest in further marginalizing the lumad communities of Talaingod,” Valle said.
The tribal schools of Talaingod were also targeted with aerial bombings by 2 helicopters and 4 warplanes last March 2014.
Some of other recent cases of military attacks on schools documented by the Save Our Schools Network include the this month’s military’s threatening and harassing by elements of the 67th Infantry Battalion of civilians connected to the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation (Misfi) Academy.
The office of the Indigenous People’s school, Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development (ALCADEV) in Surigao del Sur was likewise ransacked and vandalized by the military.
There have also been dozens of cases of schools being used for military operations. This is in violation of international laws which prohibit the use of schools for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments, and supply depots.
According to the Save Our School Network, there have been 87 schools reporting cases of attacks by the military. There are 233 documented cases of children’s rights violations from 2010 to 2015.
Note: I wrote this article for thepoc.net.