“Allowing military presence in educational institutions is tantamount to increasing the risks for children.” – SOS Network
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Indigenous children from Mindanao, along with child’s rights advocates trooped to the Department of Education (DepEd) main office in Pasig City on Friday, Nov. 28 calling for the scrapping of the Department of Education Memorandum Order 221, which, they said,legitimizes military presence in schools.
“Students, teachers and community members live in an unprecedentedly harsh and dangerous environment with the presence of military in schools and communities,” said the Save our School (SOS) Network in a position paper submitted to the DepEd.
In Mindanao, the SOS Network has documented 214 cases of military attacks on Lumad community schools,and 20 DepEd schools attacked or used by the military, in 2013 and 2014.
In the dialogue held an hour after the protest, DepEd Assistant Secretary TonisitoUmali responded that the agency continues to review and study the cases submitted in connection to the memo. The groups requested a dialogue with DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro, but Umali said he had another meeting.
The DepEd memo 221 or the “Guidelines on the Protection of Children during Armed Conflict” issued in Dec. 2013 stipulates that “the guidelines will serve as a guide for all members of the AFP before they can conduct their activities inside the premises of public elementary and secondary schools to ensure that rights of the children are not violated.”
In the dialogue, the groups said the DepEd should issue a memorandum that clearly prohibits all forms of military operations inside schools or near schools; investigate all cases of human rights violations perpetrated against the teachers and students; and declare Lumad community schools as protected institutions to ensure the socio-cultural development of children.
Present in the dialogue were representatives from STTLCI and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Emmi De Jesus, SOS Network, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) for Peace Alliance and child rights groups Salinlahi and Children’s Rehabilitation Center.
Datu Teody Mansumoy-at, Melvin Loyod, grade eight student and Mabel Historia, teacher of STTLCI also gave their testimonies before Umali.
Loyod said students and teachers have been living in fear everyday when they see the soldiers.
“The soldiers are always asking us, the students and the teachers, about the New People’s Army. I and my classmates had to stop studying because classes were interrupted. Just last Oct. 16, drunken soldiers fired their guns.”Loyod said.
Historia also shared the same experience. “Our situation is far beyond okay. We are being accused of being a member of the NPA. They (soldiers) would even tell us to surrender to the government. Every day they are telling us to go down from the mountains.”
“If the AFP is in pursuit of the NPA then they are in the wrong place. They should go to where the NPAs are and just leave us in peace,” Historia said.
KerlanFanagel, administrator of SalugpunganTa’tanuIgkanugon Learning Center Inc. (STTLCI) said that after the massive evacuation of the community from Talaingod in April, the soldiers once again encamped in Talaingod in July.
“The soldiers were pulled out and the residents of the Talaingod were able to come back to their community in May through the help of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Come July, they (soldiers) came back and put up once again their military camp near the DepEd school up to now,” Fanagel said.
Fanagelsaid the DepEdschool is directly opposite the STTLCI,as each school is located on top of a hill. Fanagel said soldiers sometimes would fire their arms aiming at the farm beside the STTLCI.
The SOS Network also cited the case in the Cotabato Foundation College of Science and Technology (CFCST) in Arakan Valley poblacion, North Cotabato, “where troops of the 10th Special Forces and the 57th IB freely went in and out of the school in full uniform and carrying firearms, playing basketball and using the internet, while openly vilifying progressive student groups.”
In Lupon, Davao Oriental,soldiers of the 28th IB and the 2nd Scout Rangers had occupied Kalasagan Elementary School in San Isidro village, as well as the village hall, health center, community chapel, basketball courts and some houses, said the SOS Network in its position paper.
The SOS Network also reported the burning of the community school in Kabulohan, Buhisan village, San Agustin, Surigao del sur on October 27. “Another school building with two classrooms of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur was also burned in SitioKabalawan,” said the group.
The SOS Network said that DepEd Memo 221 merely adopted the AFP Directive 25 or “Guidelines on the Conduct of AFP Activities Inside or Within the Premises of School or Hospital.”
The group said both guidelines violate Philippine laws and international laws, which prohibit military presence in schools. “Allowing military presence in educational institutions is tantamount to increasing the risks for children,” said the group.
“The DepEd memo 221 is nothing but a license for the AFP to deliberately attack schools, particularly those schools located in conflict areas and communities maliciously tagged as rebel-strongholda,” said the SOS Network.
In response to the groups’ demand, Umali clarified that there is no part in the memo that says soldiers are permitted inside the campuses. He said the DepEd is acting on the groups’ concern that is why they have come up with a memo.
“We have come up with the guidelines after Baguio City Division issued Memorandum No. 68 by the Schools Division Superintendent. We questioned that incident,” said Umali.
The DepEd Baguio city division Memo No. 68 required grade six and high school students to participate in the counterinsurgency lectures conducted by the AFP during class hours.
“We want to make it clear that DepEd Memo 221 does not authorize military presence in schools. The DepEd Memo is to regulate military activity in schools. The memo does not say that the military is authorized to enter schools,” said Umali.
He also said they are investigating the cases of attacks on schools previously submitted to the DepEd. They will let Sec. Luistro know of their concerns and will review the DepEd memo 221.
Umali also noted the incidents of harassments from the military and other issues such as in Lacub, Abra where classes were halted due to militarization as well as the case of military encampment in Maragondon, Cavite.
MadellaSantiago, SOS Network spokeswoman, lamented that Umali gave the same response as Undersecretary of Legal and Legislative Affairs Alberto Muyot, yet up to now,the DepEd still has no result in the said “investigation.”
Arlene Alonzo, president of Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services, Inc. (Clans) meanwhile pointed out that it is urgent that the department act on their call.
“It is urgent that the DepEd revoke the memo. As long as the military are there in our areas, the lives of our students, teachers, administrators and the whole community are at risk.”
“We have the victims here and you heard it from their mouth. Do not just review, just revoke it,” Fanagel said.
‘Luistro should act fast’
GWP Rep. De Jesussaid that Luistro should assert civilian authority over the military.
“As a Cabinet secretary of the President, it is only Luistro who can immediately act on their concerns. The President no less can also act and tell the military to pull out their troops in the area,” De Jesus said. She added the legislative can only contribute to expose and bring forward the campaign of SOS.
Meanwhile, Kapayapaan-Campaign for a Just and Lasting Peace also supported the call of the SOS Network.
LitoManalili, spokesman of Kapayapaan, said in a statement, “Mr. President, tell your troops to spare the children. Your government has not provided them basic services such as education and now that the Lumad communities, with the help of religious groups, had put up alternative schools, your forces sow terror among these children.”
Kapayapaan reiterated its demand to resume peace talks, honor all agreements and address the roots of the armed conflict.
Santiago assailed Luistro for snubbing the protesters. “For the fourth time, Secretary Luistro showed his cold-heartedness over the plight of Lumad students and teachers whose rights were violated due to military operations,” she said.
“Lumad students and teachers from Mindanao have determinedly travelled to Manila to voice out the cases of military encampment and attacks on their schools including the harassment of students and teachers. However, DepEd, again, remain futile in giving concrete resolutions.”
Fanagel said that even though there is no concrete response from the DepEd, they will continue to assert the right to education, and for teachers and students to be in a peaceful environment.
“From our province in Mindanao, to Manila, from regional offices to department offices here in Manila and up to Malacañang we will continue to protest until the government is compelled to act,” Fanagel told Bulatlat.com.