Lumad students and teachers of private schools catering to indigenous communities listen to a speech from a visiting pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines at the protest camp along the regional office of the Department of Education in Davao City on Thursday, July 13.

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Joniver Abo is already 21 years old, but he is determined to finish his high school education and hopes to become a teacher someday.

Abo, who is part Mansaka and part Muslim, is among the students protesting outside the regional office of the Department of Education here. He is a Grade 10 student currently enrolled in Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Learning Center in Maco, Compostela Valley.

“Bata pa ko sige kog undang og skwela, sige kog uban og barkada. Unya gubot pud sa balay (I usually drop out of school when I was a kid because of peers. We also have family problems),” Abo told Davao Today in an interview on Thursday.

Abo said his parents are separated. He is the eldest of four children. Two of his younger siblings are already married. They were not able to finish school.

But Abo said he is determined to finish his studies and be able to help their family.

“Magtiwas sa kog eskwela aron makatabang ko sa akong inahan nga nagpait karon. Makatabang pud ko sa akong gidakoan para makatudlo ko sa ilaha ug makahuman pud sila (I will finish school so I can help my mother. I also want to help my community so that they too can finish their studies),” he said.

Abo finished elementary in public school. But he said the free education offered by STTICLCI made him transfer to the school.

He said unlike public school ran by the government, their school does not collect any fees and even provides board and lodging to students.

But the school is tagged as a school ran by the New People’s Army, a reason why teachers and students had been reporting threats from the paramilitary.

The protesters are appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte to disarm paramilitary forces in the community who are threatening their schools and to stop militarization.

The military denied the reports that there are cases of militarization in the schools.

Challenge to government

The ongoing protest of Lumad students and teachers in the city serves as a challenge for the government to provide more services to indigenous people and their communities, an official of the Department of Social Welfare Development said.

The students and teachers of STTICLCI, MISFI Academy and Association of Community Educators set up a protest camp outside the Department of Public Works and Highways in Panacan here on June 30.

On July 10, the protesters transferred outside the regional office of the Department of Education along Torres Street. Undersecretary Mae Fe Templa, the DSWD Undersecretary for Institutional Development Group, facilitated a dialogue between the protesters and DepEd Regional Director Atty. Alberto T. Escobarte.

“We take this as a challenge from our end as a social welfare agency to continue to deliver the much needed programs and services to the most vulnerable and underserved sectors of our society,” Templa said in a statement on Thursday.

“We recognize the initiative of grassroots organizations such as the STTICLCI and the ACE for their tireless efforts to make education more accessible to far flung communities,” she said.

Templa emphasized that one of the primary mandates of the agency is to provide assistance to the families and communities experiencing emergency situations and displacement due to natural or man-made calamities.

The DSWD also provided food aid to the teachers and students on Thursday.

Religious leaders of the local churches under the United Church of Christ in the Philippines from the provinces of Agusan, Surigao and Davao del Sur also visited the students on Thursday.

UCCP Pastor Rev. Roni Dinopol from UCCP in Digos City said they hope the government will act swiftly on the matter.

“We hope their concern will be resolved immediately. They need to continue their education because it is the only thing that cannot be taken from them,” he said. (

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