DAVAO CITY – An alliance of education advocates lamented that the Department of Education local officials have not responded to their pleas for the opening of several schools for indigenous peoples in the region.

Rius Valle, spokesperson of the Save our Schools (SOS) Network, said that although they have met with a DepEd official, they have not yet receive word from the department.

Valle said the schools Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation (Misfi) Academy and Salugpungan Ta Ta’nu Igkanugon Learning Center, Inc. (STTILCI) wanted the DepEd response to be “urgent.”

“The education of the children is at stake. We say the children is our future, but why the slow action?” said Valle at the sidelines of a protest camp outside of the DepEd XI office in Davao City Tuesday.

Valle said Misfi school teachers were prevented by “Army-trained” paramilitary group Alamara from entering the communities of Manobos in Sitio Muling, Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong Davao del Norte.

“Misfi said its teachers in Baganga, Davao Oriental were barred by the Army’s 67th IB (Infantry Battalion) even though Misfi have already complied with documentary requirements,” said Valle.

Valle said  STTILCI schools in Talaingod, Davao del Norte “are being vilified and red-tagged.”

He said “the trend of insurgency operations is that it has made teachers, administrators, students and parents of schools as targets.”

Meanwhile, Valle hopes that investigations on the schools closure would be “fast-tracked”, including a Senate inquiry by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Valle said Santiago sponsored Senate Resolution no. 1392 last June 8 to conduct on-site inquiry.

Last May, STTILCI was recommended for closure by DepEd Davao del Norte Division Superintendent Josephine Fadul.

Fadul, in a letter to the DepEd Region XI Director, said the recommendation was based on a letter of the Talaingod Municipal Tribal Council.

Fadul, in her recommendation, said the STTILCI schools’ “re-evaluation” should be decided by the Regional Director.

Fadul also recommended that a new school be built by the DepEd with Army personnel as “para-teachers.”

But for Valle, “(W)hat the communities say they want is for their children to be educated without the threats and intimidations of the military,” he said.

The issues revolving the schools have been the subject of many dialogues between the Army, school administrators, DepEd and local government leaders.

Army commanders have denied the accusations and have urged Valle and Lumad leaders to report troops violations.

Valle said they have “mountains of evidence from Army encampment of schools to affidavits of victims” to support their complaints.

Davao City Mayor and Regional Peace and Order Council Chair Rodrigo Duterte have also facilitated some dialogues but have yet to see substantive results according to the Lumads.

In a recent interview, Duterte said the closure of the schools is “a stupid idea.”

“They (DepEd) listened to the military. Even if the parents are communists, the more reason the children must be educated,” said Duterte.

Valle said “the Lumads served by both Misfi and STTILCI said they are ready to encamp here as long as it take.”

“They know that this is a fight not just for them but for the future,” he said.(davaotoday.com).

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