By BENJIE OLIVEROS
MANILA — The Arroyo government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are seeing red again. This time, they are attacking, of all places, schools that serve Lumad communities.
Long neglected by the government, the Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur under their organization Mapasu (Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod, or Persevere in the Struggle for the Next Generation), with the assistance of the Diocese of Tandag and the NGO Sildap established their own school in the 1990s. Called the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS), the nonformal learning center for Lumads, which is equivalent to an elementary school with levels 1 to 6, was able to establish eight branches. It is recognized by the Department of Education (DepEd) and won the department’s National Literacy Awards twice, placing first earlier and third in 2006.
Five years ago, the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) was established to provide TRIFPSS graduates with access to secondary level education. The Alcadev was subsequently recognized by the Bureau of Alternative Learning System of the DepEd.
The purpose of the Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS) is “to address the needs for basic education of out-of-school youth and adults in the country particularly in far-flung and isolated communities, to raise the level of literacy in the target areas and improve the quality of life of individuals and families in remote and under-served communities.” The bureau implements two programs: the Basic Literacy Program and the Accreditation and Equivalency Program for elementary and secondary students.
Alcadev is recognized under the Accreditation and Equivalency Program. There were Alcadev graduates who have passed the accreditation and equivalency test for secondary school graduates and have proceeded to pursue a college education. Alcadev also has working relationships with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Tesda, which assists the center in its short courses and technical skills trainings.
Aside from providing access to secondary-level education, Alcadev has trained the youth to become responsible and productive members of their communities. Alcadev students have helped improve farming systems to increase productivity in their communities, and have served as primary health care providers and community educators. Alcadev also has an extension program, which teaches sustainable farming methods and provides health education and services to community members.
Students are also taught creative writing, visual arts, and music for their holistic development.
In June 18, everything changed. Soldiers from the 401st Brigade of the 401st Infantry Division of the Philippine Army conducted military operations in 15 communities of Liangan town and started harassing teachers and students of Alcadev. The military accused the teachers and students of being members of the NPA and moved around the school fully armed. School attendance at TRIFPSS centers and Alcadev suffered as a result.
By July 18, classes at six TRIFPSS centers and at Alcadev were suspended affecting 334 and 126 students respectively. The students are among the more than 1,796 residents from 15 Manobo communities from Lianga, San Agustin and Tago towns who left their homes and proceeded to the grounds of the Diocese of Tandag.
Why did the students and teachers of TRIFPSS and Alcadev become targets of military operations? Are not schools protected by international humanitarian law? Are the schools not contributing to the goal of the DepEd and the international community to provide education for all? Are the schools not contributing to the fulfillment of the mandate of the Bureau of Alternative Learning System to raise the level of literacy and improve the quality of life of individuals and families in remote and under-served communities?
Education is supposedly the priority of the government as mandated by the 1987 Constitution. Education is so highly valued by the Filipino people that families are willing to scrimp on food and other amenities to be able to send their children to school. And yet, when the people themselves start a program that would provide access to education to far-flung communities, benefiting a people long neglected by the government — the Lumads — it is branded as a “school for NPAs” and made a military target.
Perhaps the problem is that the Arroyo government could not claim credit for and get political capital out of these schools nor could it subsume it to its counterinsurgency program. Because everything the Arroyo government, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, does in rural areas is subsumed under a military objective — that of crushing the insurgency. All other initiatives — especially those being implemented by the people themselves, that are not contributing to the military objective – are destroyed.
Is this the type of “democracy” that the Filipino people are supposed to defend and uphold? (Bulatlat.com)