trifpss graduation in tandag city

Manobo students of the Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur hold their graduation ceremony at the evacuation center in Tandag City on Friday, March 18. (Photo from TRIFPSS Facebook account)

DAVAO CITY — As schools in the country start their graduation rites this month, two tribal schools in Surigao del Sur province held their commencement and “moving up” ceremonies in a very different venue.

“This was the first time in the history of our schools that we held our commencement program inside the evacuation center,” said Annabelle Campos, the Alternative Learning System program coordinator of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS), an alternative school which held their closing program today, March 18.

Trifpss which also founded the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), had 532 students who gathered inside the provincial sports complex in Tandag City, where thousands of evacuees have been staying exactly 200 days since they evacuated from their communities on September 1, 2015.

On Thursday, March 17, 14 students of Alcadev graduated from their 4th year secondary school. To enter college, the students only need to take the acceleration and equivalency test under the Department of Education’s alternative learning system (ALS) program.

Parents, teachers and students, made use of makeshift halls and decorated their stage for the occasion.They also invited guests from the local government units and other schools.

‘Under attack’

After the killing of a school administrator in the province last year, some 3,000 residents flee their communities and took refuge at the Surigao del Sur Provincial Sports Complex in Tandag City.

On September 1, 2015, at around 5:00 am three people were killed in Km. 16, Barangay Diatagon, including Emerito Samarca, 54, who is the executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev). The other victims were Dionel Campos, chairman of a local farmers group, the Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) and his cousin Bello Sinzo.

Residents identified the perpetrators of the killing as members of the paramilitary group Magahat Bagani Force.

In a hearing held by the House of Representatives committee on indigenous communities, Marcos Bocales, one of the leaders of the militia said Samarca was killed because “he poisoned the people” and that “the graduates of Alcadev go to the movement.”

Charges have already been filed against the suspects, including brothers Bobby and Loloy Tejero and Garito Layno. But no arrest has been made as of press time.

Read story here: More killings: IP school director, 2 others killed in Surigao del Sur

On November 12, the cottage used by the staff and teachers of an alternative school, Alcadev catering to tribal students in Padiay village, Sibagat town in Agusan del Sur was burned.

In an emailed statement on Friday, the Save Our Schools Network said in less than a month after the evacuation, “makeshift classrooms were built inside the evacuation center by the Lumad people and supporters to provide learning space for continuous education and rehabilitation for the students affected by forcible evacuation.”

Biggest drop out rate

“We suffered at least 18 percent dropout rate since the September 2015 attack on our Lumad schools, the biggest since the tribal community schools were established. Still, considering their dire conditions, many more persisted,” the group said.

Campos told Davao Today that because of the threats against their school, they needed to pull out their teachers who were “threatened to be burned along with the school by the Magahat”.

Campos said they pulled out schools from their communities, mostly in San Miguel town including in their schools in the villages of Danlog, Minong, Liangabn, Mansion, Lum-obon, and Lamesa.

Trifpss, was a program founded in 1974 and is doing organizing work under the Diocese of Tandag, said Campos.  It also started providing adult literacy program for tribes people who were not able to go to school.

By 2011, Trifpss was able to start offering their early childhood education program.

GRADUATE. A Manobo student and her mother receives the medal during the graduation ceremony held inside the evacuation center in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur. (Photo from Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur Facebook account)

GRADUATE. A Manobo student and her mother receives the medal during the graduation ceremony held inside the evacuation center in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur. (Photo from Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur Facebook account)

Overcoming obstacles

Campos said most of them turned emotional during the their ceremonies.

“You can really see that the people here know that it would be a totally different ceremonies, if they are in their communities,” said Campos.

But Campos said the community is determined to give education to the Manobo youths.

“Even if the situation here is hard, the teachers re determined to continue teaching and that inspires us,” she said.

“We told ourselves that there is a positive side on our graduation day and that we were able to overcome the hardships,” Campos added.

The network said they will use their education to “seek justice for the human rights violations we have suffered.”

“We have suffered much and for too long, but today the Lumad claim victory through our education,” it said. (

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