“We are aghast with the planned demolition of two schools in Cavite. We are in dire need of more classrooms in the country and such plan to demolish schools to give way to the construction of commercial establishments is unacceptable in all aspects.” – France Castro, Alliance of Concerned Teachers
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Sarah Jane, 17, a third year high school student at Sta. Mercedes National High School in Patungan village, Maragondon, Cavite felt anxious when she heard the news that their school will be demolished. She said she has only one more year to go before she graduates from high school.
Ludy Dela Cruz, 44, said all her six children have studied in the said school, two of whom have already graduated. “Having a school near our residence is very convenient. I don’t have to spend for their transportation because they only walk to school. Even if they don’t have snacks they could eat at home after school.”
However, the students and their parents were told by officials of the Department of Education (DepEd)Region IV-A that the school will be demolished. “We were told that after July, the school will be transferred to Maragondon town proper, which is two hours away from Patungan,” Dela Cruz said in an interview with Bulatlat.com.
There are two schools in Patungan village, the Sta. Mercedes Elementary School and the Sta. Mercedes National High School. According to Arnold Evangelista, executive director of the Batangas Integrated Human Rights Alliance (BIHRA), both schools are to be demolished to give way to the projects of the Manila South Coast Development Corporation of business tycoon Henry Sy and Fil Estate. About 600 students will be affected if the schools will be demolished.
“If they will demolish these two schools, where will we send our children to study?” said Susana Agner, secretary general of Save Patungan Now!
“These are the only schools in our community, which also serve adjacent communities. These schools have been here for decades already. In fact, we and our ancestors were educated here. This planned demolition will just worsen the inaccessibility of basic education to the people of Patungan and nearby communities,” Agner added.
Hacienda Looc in Nasugbu, Batangas covers five villages; Calayo, Bulihan, Papaya, Looc and a 602 hectares extension in Patungan village, Maragondon, Cavite with a total area of 8,650 hectares that are rich in natural resources.
In 1994, the entire Hacienda Looc including the 5,218 hectares that was already awarded to the farmers under the government’s agrarian reform program was sold to the Manila Southcoast Development Corp (MSDC). Bulatlat.com earlier reported that MSDC has been developing 5,800 hectares of Hacienda Looc into the Hamilo Coast project that includes the Pico De Loro Beach and Country Club and the Pico De Loro Residential Condominiums. “It aims to develop 13 natural coves, 25 kilometers of pristine beachfront; forests, mountains, limestone cliffs, and rock formations. Since 2004, SM Land has been building structures along the coastal areas, converting farmlands and displacing farmers and fishermen of Hacienda Looc.”
In 2012, Dela Cruz said, a certain Maria Teresa Virata claimed that she bought portions of land in Patungan village. Virata allegedly has a business venture with Henry Sy. Dela Cruz said Virata is allegedly behind the demolition of the school. In the same year, she said, the DepEd started to construct an additional school building in Patungan. However, the DepEd’s contractor was barred by Virata’s guards from entering the village. The construction of the school building has then stopped.
“Our place is rich in natural resources. Our livelihood is dependent on the natural resources of Patungan. During rainy season we till the land; during summer, we fish. We can live there even if we have no money,” Dela Cruz said.“That is why businessmen are very eager to push us out of the land so they can make money out of it. And it is not only our livelihood that is at stake, but our children’s education.”
According to the fact sheet of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, last June 2, security guards of Maria Teresa Virata built their hut inside the premises of Sta. Mercedes National High School. Since then, the security guards had been roaming the school premises carrying long firearms.
The Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) held a fact finding mission and psychosocial processing of the children last June 13. According to reports that it gathered,there were incidents when the guards barged inside the classrooms even when classes were on-going. “The guards asked the students who will ride in the bus going to the relocation site.”According to Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, Virata has been offering money to the residents to leave Patungan. There were 68 families who accepted the money amounting to P5,000 ($114.06) to P15,000 ($342.19), of which 49 families moved to Sta. Mercedes Village Relocation Site and 19 left the community to other places.
“Guards of Virata leave their firearms inside their hut, which is inside the school premises. This is a concern because the children might play with it.”
“The children expressed their desire to hold a gun at such a young age. The children thought that it was right because they see adults (referring to the guards) carrying firearms inside the Patungan village,” the fact sheet read.
The children were also traumatized by the violence being displayed Virata’s guards against the residents who refused to leave Patungan.
Dela Cruz said last Feb. 2013 security guards of Virata arrived in Patungan and started to put up check-points to monitor who are coming in and out of the village. “The guards have been roaming the village carrying firearms. They threaten people they see farming their land, telling them that they will be charged with trespassing. Virata is very eager to have our land and she will use violence just to push us out.”
Dela Cruz said on May 23 children saw how guards of Virata threw the mangoes they just harvested for selling. “The guards are with the policemen that day and they kept telling us that the land is owned by Virata and we should leave,” she said.
Last Monday, June 23, Save Patungan Now! Movement and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) had a dialogue with officials of DepEd Central Office in Pasig City regarding the impending demolition of the schools.
In the dialogue, Evangelista said they were told by the Office of the Undersecretary for Legal Affairs of DepEd that Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro told them the schools will not be demolished and the DepEd will not let the school be demolished for as long as there are students studying in both schools.
“Sec. Luistro has supposedly negotiated with Virata not to demolish the school in Patungan. The school just needed to have a deed of donation in case Virata sues them.”
“We are aghast with the planned demolition of two schools in Cavite. We are in dire need of more classrooms in the country and such plan to demolish schoolsto give way to the construction of commercial establishments is unacceptable in all aspects,” said France Castro, secretary general of the ACT.
“It hurts us that our school is being demolished to give way to the construction of commercial establishments,” Sarah Jane said.
“We started holding classes under the trees, bunk houses until they constructed the building in 2012. We exerted efforts to make our classrooms conducive for learning and then they will just demolish it,” said Crismel, also a third year student of Sta. Mercedes National High School.
Lolita Luisa, 55, said two of her children are also studying at the Sta. Mercedes Elementary School. “If the school will be demolished where will the students go? We don’t want to be relocated in far flung areas, there is no livelihood there unlike in Patungan where the resources are rich and we can make a living from it.”
“If we are to be relocated in a place without livelihood, all the more that our children will not attain the education that we want them to have,” Luisa told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
“We call on Bro. Armin to be true to his word that they will sue whoever will demolish our school,” said Susan, 17, also a third year student Sta. Mercedes National High School.
“As teachers, we sympathize with the residents and students of Patungan. We all know that parents are willing to do everything just to send their children to school despite the financial limitations that they are facing. We are urging the leadership of DepEd to do all possible means to save these two schools. Demolition is not an option at all. In the spirit of ‘public interest,’ the department is left with only one option and that is to keep the school operational and give all necessary assistance needed,” said Castro.