DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Thirteen-year-olds Angelica and Lady Jean are Grade 7 students of Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center Inc. (STTILCLCI) in Spur Dos, Monkayo town in Compostela Valley Province.
Both of them were previously enrolled at a public school run by the government.
But Angelica said her family cannot afford sending her to school, even state-run or DepEd school. Her father works at a banana plantation and earns only a measly sum. Sometimes they do not have anything to eat.
She said even if it’s a public school, there are still fees to be paid.
“If we fail to attend meetings we will pay P100. We also have to pay during exams,” Angelica said.
Lady Jean said in her previous school, they were required to bring broomsticks or floor wax.
“During Christmas, we have to bring lanterns,” she said. The same sentiment is shared by Angelica.
She lamented: “We do not have points if we don’t bring floor wax.”
Lady Jean’s sister, Lindy also studies at STTCILCI.
Lindy said their elder brother who is only 16 years old have stopped schooling to work in a mining site and help their mother. Their mother works as a nanny and only earns P4,000 a month.
This is the reason why they opted to enroll in STTCILCI which offers free education.
But the school lamented cases of harassment against its teachers and students as it is being tagged as a school run by the New People’s Army.
Currently, students like them are housed in the makeshift tents along the highway. They call it a “Kampohan” (camp-out) to make the public aware of their situation.
A hundred Lumad students of STTICLCI and the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation (MISFI) Academy and teachers set up their makeshift camps with tarpaulins as their cover from the dusty highway and bamboo floorings covered with sacks as their bed. They sleep and hold “alternative classes” in the camp and vowed to persevere until President hears their cries.
The tents are set up just alongside the fence of the office of the Department of Public Works and Highways compound in Panacan here.
The compound houses the Presidential guest house a few meters away from the highway. It was touted as the “Malacañang of the South” or “Panacañang” where President Rodrigo Duterte sometimes meet visitors and the press whenever he is in Davao.
Shooting in school
On June 20, a high school teacher of the STTCILCI’s campus in Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod was shot at three times at about 10:00 in the morning by a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit. The shooting incident caused slight physical injury to a student and traumatized all of the school children..
Angelica and Lady Jean said they might be new students of the STTCILCI, but they are concerned with what happened to other campuses.
“Naluoy mi sa ubang eskwelahan gusto nila makahibalo pero himoon lang nga kampo sa mga sundalo ang ilang eskwelahan (We sympathize with the other schools because they only want to learn, but there are soldiers who camped inside the school),” Angelica said.
Ricky Balilid, spokesperson of Alliance of Community Educators and a teacher of Misfi Academy said in 2014 to 2015 he himself was harassed by the paramilitary.
“Gikampuhan ang among eskwelahan, samtang nagtudlo ko, ang Alamara naa sila (They encamped our school, while I was teaching, and the Alamara were there inside),” he said. The Alamara is a group of Lumad militiaman in the community, believed to be organized by the soldiers operating in the area.
Sometimes, Balilid said, soldiers will also look at how they teach children or how they will sing the national anthem.
“Gipondohan gyud mi og one week sa community (They stayed in the community for a week),” he told Davao Today in an interview on Thursday.
Balilid recalled that once he was interrogated by the Alamara, and he was so fearful that he helplessly waited to feel a stinging pain or gunshot burst.
“If I feel pain it means they have stabbed me already, or if I hear a shot, It means they already shot me,” he said.
Balilid said the militia wanted to know who backs the school.
Balilid said they depend on donors from Lumad advocates and non-government organizations to run the schools. Currently, Misfi has 13 campuses in Davao region.
For several years, Balilid said they carried the brunt of red-tagging against their school.
On Thursday, the students held a program to call on President Rodrigo Duterte to disarm paramilitaries and to protect their schools from attacks.
On the same day, Duterte talked to troops of the 403rd Brigade camp in Malaybalay City in Bukidnon and later visited wounded troops in a hospital in Davao City.
But Balilid said, this is the closest they could get to the President. He said they hoped the President would be able to hear their pleas.
“We are here because we want to get close to President Duterte. Until our woes are not heard we will stay here,” he said.
Lady Jean and Lindy said they hoped to become teachers and impart knowledge on students like them who came from poor families.
While Angelica said she hopes to become a policewoman someday to enforce what is right and fight what is wrong.
Balilid added that staying outside Panacañang aims to advance the children’s dream of having free education. He said it is the only way to ensure that students who came from poor families can become professionals like them. (davaotoday.com)