DAVAO CITY – Classes were disrupted in a Davao del Norte indigenous peoples schools as its teachers were allegedly restricted by a fanatic paramilitary group.
Pre-school and elementary classes of more than 200 Manobo children in the villages of Lunoluno, Tawongatok, Ngan, Maguimon, Banwalay, Mansalinaw, and Muling, all in Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong failed to resume after the Christmas break when its teachers were “forbidden” by Alamara, a paramilitary tribal group, from entering their campus.
“We have paid the Mayor a courtesy call. We also talked with barangay officials and the tribal chieftain himself but they just would not allow us to go back to our schools. How can we resume our classes?” said Ricky Balilid, a teacher of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Incorporated (MISFI) Academy.
Balilid said that they talked with the Kapalong Mayor Edgardo Timbol last January 6, “and he said all is okay and that we do not need his endorsement.”
“We then proceeded to talk with Captain Ebanghelyo Warag of Barangay Gupitan but he was on leave so we talked with several barangay officials present instead,” he said.
Balilid said that as a matter of procedure they also signed the logbook and took pictures with the officials.
The teachers and two administrative staff of MISFI Academy then went to Sitio Patil of the same barangay to talk with known Alamara leader Larris Masaloon.
Masaloon, however, asked for a signed endorsement from the Mayor.
“Datu Larris said if we still wanted to proceed, we should sign an agreement with them saying they should not be held accountable if something bad will happen to us along the way,” said Balilid.
Balilid said that the arrangement with Masaloon “fuelled the fears of the teachers who have already heard of earlier rumors that the Alamara would not allow teachers who have taken their Christmas vacation to re-enter the community.”
Balilid also said that the sheer distance of Sitio Muling from Sitio Patil (about two-day walk) already makes them “fearful of what may happen.”
Larris then said to Balilid that they had to inform the Army detachment in the area to talk to a certain Sergeant JR Nailgas.
But when the teachers met with Ongging Masaloon, they were told “the Mayor’s laws are his, but ours will be followed.”
Ongging said the he “didn’t like our group.”
“The Alamara surrounded our vehicle and brandished their blade and Ongging said they would tie us like carabaos if we choose to proceed,” said Balilid.
Dominaline Basagan, one of MISFI’s administrative officers, said the teachers chose not to proceed out of fear and, instead, asked Datu Larris that they be allowed to stay for the night at the house of a local businesswoman.
“All throughout the night, the Alamara members were checking on them almost every hour,” said Basagan.
Basagan said the MISFI administrative staff left Barangay Gupitan the same day and secured a written endorsement from Municipal Administrator Gaspar Balingao, a copy of which they brought with them when they returned the next day.
The admin officers also brought Municipal IP Representative Art Dabaw to the area to help them.
“Although Art Dabaw, Datu Larris and Datu Ongging talked among themselves, Dabaw only said that we are not allowed to enter,” said Balilid.
The teachers and admin officers opted to leave the area and went back to Office of Mayor Timbol last January 7 for help; the latter promised to act on it and will relay the result on January 10, Saturday.
Basagan said they asked for extension up to Wednesday, January 14.
Asked by the media if they only experienced of such incident recently, Balilid said the incident was a first for MISFI since it built the schools in 2006.
Alamara is a paramilitary group formed by the Army in the late 90s to early 2000s to fight with New People’s Army guerrillas.
The Alamara (also a Manobo term for extensive armed indigenous warfare against invaders) was revived and employed as members of the paramilitary Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) in July last year.
IP Group Karadyawan accused the Army and the Mayor Timbol of training and supporting the Alamara.
In October, the Alamara allegedly shot two students from the school who went to fetch school supplies.
Basagan said that since 2007, the MISFI Academy developed from serving only a pre-school nursery to now Grade 5 students in the area wherein they now have 248 students.
MISFI schools in Kapalong were built through a funding of the European Union under the latter’s disaster aid project in 2007.
“We are also a member of the Municipal Peace and Order Council (MPOC) and the town’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council,” Basagan said.
Meanwhile, last January 8, the teachers received a text message from the Parent-Teacher-Community-Association (PTCA) that the Army’s 72nd and 60th Infantry Battalions have allegedly arrested a minor student.
Balilid said Bryan Moluhinday, 17, and a Grade 4 student in their school and three other pupils were set to fetch them in Sitio Kapatagan and to accompany them in the long walk.
“We have no news yet if Bryan had been released or if he is safe,” said Balilid.
Lindy Trinilla from the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network called the barring of the teachers as “violation of the development rights of the child.”
Trinilla also said that a previous dialogue between MISFI Academy, the Department of Education and the 1003rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army has declared that schools “should not be made targets of attack.”
“We call on the local government, the DepEd and the Army officers to be sincere in what they have promised and conduct an immediate investigation on the matter,” said Trinilla. (davaotoday.com)