DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The operation of the so-called “bakwit school” for Lumad children is also threatened by the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC)-11 resolution which seeks the immediate closure of the UCCP Haran Center.
This was disclosed by the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network, an alliance of NGOs, church-based groups and other stakeholders who advocate for children’s right to education, in a press conference on Monday (January 20).
“Bakwit” is the Filipino word for “evacuate,” and the UCCP Haran Center has been providing sanctuary for the Lumad indigenous people (IP) of Mindanao who are forcibly displaced by the persisting armed conflict in the hinterlands.
To address the need of several affected indigenous learners who wish to continue education while seeking refuge, a network of different organizations facilitated the opening of the “Bakwit schools,” including one in UCCP Haran, which serves around 150-200 children from preschool to Grade 10.
The SOS Network noted that the number of Lumad children who are driven away from schools and communities continue to increase as “state-sponsored attacks,” including the forcible closure of several private-run IP schools, escalate.
Among those whom the “Bakwit school” inside the UCCP Haran cater to are students from the Salugpongan schools.
All IP schools in the region run by non-governmental organization Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc. (STTICLCI) were also earlier ordered by the Department of Education (DepEd)-11 to be closed on October 2019. The school, which was given government permits in previous years, is also being accused by the military to be teaching children “communist ideologies.”
The DepEd’s decision affects 1,200 children whom the school has been serving, according to STTICLCI. DepEd has also called for the Salugpongan students to be transferred to public schools.
Salugpongan teacher Mimi Alegre, however, said that the Lumad themselves are calling for the reopening the school.
“We cannot force them [students] to be enrolled in public schools because what they are asking for is free education [which the school provides],” Alegre said, noting that transferring to government-run schools is costly and inaccessible for many IP families.
Dismissing allegations against UCCP Haran and Lumad schools, Alegre urged groups and individuals advocating for the rights of the Lumad to continue to support their struggle as part of their assertion for self-determination.
“[The government] may take away our permit to operate, but our stand as teachers to provide free education to IP children remains,” Alegre said.
Meanwhile, STTICLCI executive director Meggie Nolasco said in a statement that the attacks on Lumad communities and schools are reasons why Salugpongan sought sanctuaries in churches, schools, and other institutions all over the country, for “their ancestral land is no longer at peace.”
“Now the RPOC-11’s resolution to shut down one of the Lumad sanctuaries and arrest those who support the Lumad are repeating the same violent injustice,” she said.
STTICLCI said that despite its lifting by President Rodrigo Duterte, Martial Law still exists in Mindanao through Executive Order 70 which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which aims to carry out its mandate through a “whole of nation approach.”
“Their whole of nation approach has positioned retired generals in key government offices such as the DILG, DSWD, NCIP, OPAPP. It is also designed to influence other departments such as the DepEd and now the RPOC to institutionalize and operationalize the government’s counter-insurgency plan,” Nolasco said.
Lumad evacuees who sought help from the UCCP also strongly condemned the RPOC resolution, reiterating their demand to the government to pull out the military from their communities and disband paramilitary groups so they can return home safely. (davaotoday.com)