LEBAK, Sultan Kudarat – Davao Today accompanied the Save our Schools Network when it conducted a national fact-finding mission comprised of various rights groups on July 27 to 30 at Barangay Basak, Lebak to investigate the incidents of harassment, and encampment of Lumad schools and communities by government troops in the province.
The delegation, led by ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas, interviewed at least 105 Dulangan-Manobo from nine different far-flung communities of Kalamansig town, where many cases of rights violations were reported.
The SOS Network said the fact-finding mission was able to document 225 cases of attacks on Lumad community schools with eight cases of forcible evacuation, 67 cases of threats, harassment and intimidation, four cases of destruction of school and private property, and 11 cases of violation of domicile.
According to Rius Valle, spokesperson of SOS Network, the mission was not able to proceed to Kalamansig due to uncertainty in the security of the participants and added that Mayor Ronan Eugene Garcia “has been targeting Lumad schools and civilian communities he believed to be NPA supporters.”
Among those who shared their ordeal during the Mission were the Dulangan-Manobo residents.
Destroyed house locks, scattered clothes and belongings in disarray, some missing—these were only a few that the Lumad residents of Sitio Tinagdanan, Baragangay Hinalaan in Kalamansig town, Sultan Kudarat saw when they returned home last month after two days in evacuation.
On May 10, one of the residents, Mailyn Gantanga, was on her way home when she heard the news that about 50 men in uniform under the Marine Battalion Landing Team 2 came to their community to look for New People’s Army rebels.
Gantanga, a volunteer teacher of a community school run by the nongovernmental Center for Lumad Advocacy and Networking, Inc. (CLANS) said the militarization prompted more than 80 families to flee their homes to the nearby community of Sitio Nges.
She said the Marines arrested eight individuals without warrants of arrest.
“The Marines falsely accused us as NPAs, including our children and even pregnant women,” Gantanga told Davao Today.
When they returned home two days after, they found a “Closed” sign written on the doors of the community school and church.
Gantangan said the military operations and harassment intensified since they built the CLANS school two years ago.
SOS Network earlier reported that 56 Lumad schools in Mindanao were forced to cease operation due to “intense military attacks brought by martial law.”
Out of the total, 36 were owned by CLANS in Soccsksargen region.
This, according to SOS Network, is “the most number of forcible closures in Mindanao.”
CLANS has been particularly targeted in the province, Valle noted.
In February, CLANS volunteer teacher Jolita Tolina was arrested at her home in Sitio Chiris, Barangay Sangay, Kalamansig for murder and frustrated murder after allegedly participating in an ambush by the NPA rebels against the Marines last year that left one soldier killed and more other wounded.
Tolina remains detained at the police jail in Isulan town.
Gantangan who used to work with Tolina, belied the charges and maintained that those were trumped-up and none of the teachers and community leaders could have been NPA fighters or involved in the ambush.
“We are only armed with pencil and paper to fight illiteracy among our tribe,” she added.
She was also threatened to be arrested by the Marines for teaching at CLANS.
An informant named ‘Sais’ told her that her name is in the Marines’ list and is likely to be arrested.
Aside from military operations, SOS Network decried that the Department of Education region 12 has refused to issue school permits to CLANS and to Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) Academy, which also runs Lumad schools in the region.
SOS’ Valle said the DepEd regional office has yet to issue permit to operate for 13 Lumad schools.
He said DepEd officials during dialogues bared that local government units and the military prohibit them from visiting the Lumad school campuses, thus delaying their work to process the applications of these schools.
CLANS continued to conduct classes while waiting for the permit, pointing out that they cannot deny the Lumad communities’ right to education.
Consorcia Pablo, a member of the Parent-Teachers Community Association and a resident of Sitio Kibag, Baragangay Santa Clara, Kalamansig said CLANS made education more accessible for the poor Lumad families because parents do not need to spend a single centavo for the schooling.
The schools are also built near their homes.
As a mother of three, sending her children to study in a DepEd school would cost her a lot. They need to buy school supplies and food provisions on top of their daily necessities.
Aside from the cost, she is anxious of the three-hour travel her children had to take to the nearest public school.
Compared to the community school run by CLANS, Pablo added, school supplies and lunch are provided and the school building is at the center of their community.
However, this opportunity to send their children to school is beset with difficulties.
During the group discussions at the Fact Finding Mission, parents raised that state agents threatened families that they will be removed from the list of 4Ps beneficiaries if they enroll their children in Lumad schools.
4Ps or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program is the cash assistance program by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Meanwhile, volunteer teacher of CLANS, Rowe John Libot, underscored the importance of education for Lumad communities in their struggle to defend their ancestral lands.
Libot, a fresh education graduate, added that due to the lack of access to education, “Lumad communities became vulnerable to local and foreign companies like [those] owned by the Consunjis that encroach on ancestral domains of IPs for plunder and exploitation of natural resources.”
The Consunji family owns the David M. Consunji, Inc. (DMCI), a big mining and logging company operating in the area, has long been criticized by rights groups for land grabbing and alleged involvement in the extra-judicial killing of anti-mining leaders.
Aside from the regular classes for schoolchildren, Libot added, they also provide literacy and numeracy program for adults during weekends.
When asked about his thoughts regarding the threats and harassments experienced by Lumad school teachers, Libot pledged that he will continue to teach at CLANS hoping that more Lumad children will soon become teachers and doctors who will serve in poor rural communities.
For its part, ACT’s Castro denounced the Duterte administration’s Martial Law declaration in Mindanao, “wherein children are halted of their schooling, communities are pressured in spite of being civilians and teachers are arrested for teaching.”
“Said communities are heavily militarized due to Consunji’s interest for the establishment of his Agro-industrial Coffee Plantation and logging concession. Therefore, the establishment of IP schools became an expression of resistance towards economic plunder of Lumad’s ancestral land and natural resources,” Castro added.
The lawmaker also criticized the Department of Education for its “conscious efforts” to delay the release of Lumad school’s permit to operate (PTO) “through its ridiculously long bureaucratic processes.”
Castro added they would file a resolution for the Congress to conduct an investigation on the militarization of Lumad communities and the DepEd’s refusal to issue PTO for community schools.
In July last year, President Rodrigo Duterte in a press conference after his second State of the Nation Address threatened to bomb Lumad schools in Mindanao for alleged subversive teachings.
The SOS Network slammed Duterte’s pronouncement, saying this was “a direct presidential endorsement of violence against IP communities and schoolchildren.” (davaotoday.com)