DAVAO CITY – At around 2:00 am on Thursday, the cottage used by the school staff and teachers of an alternative school catering to tribal students in Padiay village, Sibagat town in Agusan del Sur was burned.

Teacher Lorena Dorilag of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) said some six unidentified men were seen by neighbors burning the cottage “between 2:00 am and 3:00 am”.

She said neighbors also narrated that the fire continued for hours.

The human rights group Karapatan and the school teachers have only the military to blame due to series of warnings and harassment they received from them.

Dorilag told Davao Today in a phone interview that since last year the military has been ordering the residents to burn the school.

“Even before Sir (Emerito Samarca) died, we have been receiving harassments from the military. They even ordered the community to burn the school last year,” said Dorilag.

Dorilag teaches values education, technology and home economics and history to students.

She said the residents refuse to heed the Army commands since they are the ones who build the school.

“The military are the ones who are ordering them so we cannot blame anyone else but them,” said Dorilag.

She said the Army has branded the school as owned by the New People’s Army.

Along with the cottage, burned were the sewing machine, generator, farm tools and the school’s nursery where they have prepared more than 5,000 banana and abaca seedlings that is supposed to be distributed to the communities.

She said there was no staff inside the cottage at that time since teachers and students were already asked to evacuate the area after the killing of Samarca.

“After Sir Emok was killed, we were asked to proceed in Tandag City because we fear more harrasment from the military,” she said.

She said they are holding their classes inside the evacuation camp since September.

Alcadev caters to 24 students of first year to third year high school. It provides free board and lodging to students and free schooling to students. It was established in June 2013.

Fortunately, she said, the two dormitories of the school and their classroom were not burned.

She said some of the school staff went back there in the later part of October to clean the area.

It can be recalled that the school director of Alcadev in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, Emerito Samarca was killed on September 1, this year along with two other Lumad leaders in the area. The incident prompted thousands of Lumads to flee the communities and seek sanctuary in the Provincial Sports Complex in Tandag City for fear of more attacks from the paramilitary groups whom they accuse of killing Samarca and their community leaders, Datu Jovello Sinzo and Dionel Campos.

The suspects of the killings have already been identified.

Meanwhile, the military has already denied allegations that it has something to do with the paramilitary units.

In a Philippine Information Agency dispatch, Major General Oscar Lactao, commander of the 4th Infantry Division said they urge the suspects to surrender to prevent violence in the time of their arrest.

Lactao said the suspects are rebel returnees and are not members of the military.

“They are more akin to the rebels.  They simply left the rebel movement and currently fight each other,” he said.

Lactao said they are now having an indigenous people-centered internal security operation “by bringing in the government services to the indigenous communities where the soldiers provide security to working government personnel.”

But Dorilag said the Army has conducted its “peace and development” programs inside the school “that tells the villagers not support our school.”

“That is a big lie that they are telling, because the Army arrived first at the community in Lianga, Surigao del Sur where Sir Emok was killed,” she said.

“When the tribal leaders and our school director were killed, they were there inside the school compound,” she said.

Ryan Recalde, a volunteer teacher of Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur schools (TRIFPSS) which caters to 1,300 students in primary level said their school was also burned in three separate incidents.

“The first incident was in October 2014 in Sitio Kabuluhan, Barangay Buhisan, San Agustin, Surigao del Sur. The residents in the community were able to stop the fire from damaging the school,” he said.

He said, on September 1, at the time Samarca and the two other IP leaders were killed by paramiitary members, their school in Panukmoan, Barangay Diatagon, Lianga town was also burned.

He said unidentified men also attempted to burn their campus in Sitio Han-ayan, but it was saved by the residents in the neighborhood.

Recalde said he could not say who burned their schools, but added that “during those times, members of the 75th Infantry Battalion, 36th IB, special forces and paramilitary forces Bagani and Magahat were there at the area.”

“The perpetrators of the incidents were not identified but these forces were there in the area when it took place,” he said.

“Personally, I don’t understand why they will burn our school. We know for a fact that schools are there to educate the children, so I don’t get their objective of burning our schools,” he said.

Recalde added that their school is also accused of being owned by the NPAs.

He said because of the recent evacuation in Surigao del Sur, 782 students of TRIFPSS are holding their classes inside the evacuation center in Tandag City.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, the government “continues to ignore the public uproar on the Lumad killings and the resounding call to pull-out the military troops from the Lumad communities in Mindanao and to dismantle the AFP-backed paramilitary groups.”

She said these attacks against schools is left unheeded by the government who is “more concerned with how to show the heads of States and other foreign visitors coming for the APEC Summit that it is ‘more fun in the Philippines’ despite poverty, landlessness, and unabated human rights violations.” (davaotoday.com)

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