DAVAO CITY , Philippines — A group managing lumad schools in Davao del Norte said that the military here has a direct hand harassing volunteer teachers as well as threatening the closure of lumad schools.
Meggie Nolasco, executive director of Salugpongan Ta’tanu Igkanogon Community learning Center, named the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion as the unseen hand in the latest string of harassment incidents which she claimed to sow terror and disrupted the schooling of lumad children in the hinterlands of Talaingod town.
LTC Ezra Balagtey, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, belied Nolasco’s claim that they were behind the campaign to shut down the lumad schools in Davao region.
“The Department of Education has the regulatory function to close schools and not within the military purview. Eastern Mindanao Command believes in the importance of education as part of building blocks of peace particularly IP Education,” Balagtey said.
He added that the military has partnered with philanthropic organizations and other government agencies to build schools in various IP communities under the government’s “Build Lumad Schools” programs in Talaingod, Davao Del Norte.
The “Build Lumad Schools” project, according to Balagtey, is being implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the local government of Talaingod, and the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion, and 52nd Engineering Brigade.
But Nolasco said the military is using tribal leaders to forcibly evict those who run the lumad schools including issuing grave threats against the school children and volunteer teachers.
She said threats instigated by the military come in various forms. For instance, in Tubucag campus, soldiers have encamped inside the school while in Dulyan, the military forced the parents of lumad school children to either surrender as rebels or pullout their children from the school.
In Nasilaban, soldiers have threated the community members to prove that they are on the side of the government by “forcing the village leaders to sign a letter of request for the lumad school’s closure ,” she added.
“The military has used this tactic of dividing the Lumad and force them in their aims to close down our schools. They use red-baiting, intimidation and disinformation in this counter-insurgency campaign but this is far from the truth,” Nolasco said.
In Davao region, there are 21 Salugpongan Ta’tanu Igkanogon Community learning Centers that were given permits to operate by the Department of Education (DepEd)
Of the 21 lumad schools, according to Nolasco, only 18 are currently operating (2 high schools, 11 elementary schools and 5 pre-schools) because of the constant threats that hamper the operation of these schools.
Back in Oct. 25, six soldiers from the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion along with Datu Eli and DatuMoru, both tribal leaders from Nasilaban and Dulyan, informed them of their plan to close the STTICLI as they plan to establish a new school with new teachers.
Nolasco denounced the military for using Alamara-backed tribal leaders to pursue the closures of the lumad schools in Talaingod.
“These Datus, led by Datu Eli and DatuMorus, gave an ultimatum for the teachers to close the school and leave in one week,” she said.
Nolasco argued that lumad schools in Talaingod were recognized by DepEd and satisfactorily complied the requirements for these schools to continuously operate within the bounds of the law.
“There is synergy among the DepEd, school administration and PTCA to make sure that the school operates well and that it serves the interests of the community. As long as these requirements are met, the schools integrity remains intact,” she said.
She added the military’s intervention was meant “to foil the dreams of the lumad” as the government wants to pursue their so-called “development projects” by bringing in plantations and mining operations perceived to be detrimental to the interests of the lumad of Talaingod.
The education that STTICLC offers to the lumad in Talaingod is free, Nolasco stressed, adding that it also taught the lumad “to defend themselves against those who intend to devastate the ancestral domains and rob them of their right to self-determination.”
“The AFP should stop their ploy of recruiting and arming the paramilitary Alamara, and using Lumad leaders to pit against fellow Lumad in Talaingod,” she said.(davaotoday.com)