By JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
DAVAO CITY – The recent moves to close several schools of an indigenous people’s organization in Davao del Norte serve the insurgency campaign of the Philippine Army, said school administrators.
Ronnie Garcia, basic education head of the Salugpungan Ta Ta’nu Igkanugon Learning Center Incorporated (STTILCI), said, “It is clear to the community that the Army is working hard for the closure of the schools as part of the so-called Peace and Development Outreach Program under Oplan (operation plan) Bayanihan.”
“The latest incident under their (Army) concept of peace and development is telling IP leaders in Sitio Tibukag (Talaingod, Davao del Norte) to burn the schools and to kill the teachers as the schools are owned by the NPA (New People’s Army rebels),” said Garcia.
Garcia said that Army officers “have been talking to tribal councils in various levels to convince them to close the schools.”
“Army troops who are now in communities tell and threaten parents not to let their children attend classes and enroll,” said Garcia.
Garcia said the Salugpungan schools are being “targeted because these are symbols of the communities’ unbreakable resolve to battle against discrimination and exploitation of their ancestral domain by mining and logging companies by means of education.”
“The communities, the parents, the students and the school are civilians but they now became the target of the insurgency operations of the government,” he said.
First Lieutenant Christyn Joan Pamplona, officer-in-charge spokesperson of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said the allegations are “recycled” and that the Talaingod Tribal Councils has recommended the closing of the Salugpungan schools.
Pamplona showed a powerpoint presentation of a letter by the Davao del Norte Division of the Department of Education (DepEd) “recommending the closure of Salugpungan.”
The letter, signed by Dr. Josephine Fadul, schools division superintendent, said she has received a document from the Office of the Talaingod Municipal Tribal Council of Elders “emphasizing its request/stand for the temporary closure of the schools operated by STTICLC.”
The letter said the tribal council also calls for the “investigation, reinspection and reevaluation of the said schools in terms of performance in providing efficient, quality and relevant educational services consistent with DepEd and National Education policies, plans and standards.”
Fadul said in the letter that it is the regional Director, Atty. Alberto Escobarte, who is mandated to take “appropriate action” on the matter as per their 2010 Revised Manual of Regulation for Private Schools.
Fadul said should the request for the closure of the schools be granted, “the Division requests permission to implement the creation of a public high school in Butay, Talaingod utilizing military personnel as para-teachers.”
Fadul said that the use of military para-teachers “has been agreed upon during our meeting with the Regional Intelligence Committee” last April 23, 2015.
Lolit Casagda, school administrator of STTILCI, said that they have not received official communications from the DepEd on the allegations against them.
Casagda said that it was only Thursday that she was able to have a copy of the said letter of Fadul and that there was no attachment of the tribal council’s request.
“The tribal council did not also call our attention that they have complaints. We have been denied of due process in all this,” said Casagda.
Casagda said they have been closely coordinating with the tribal council, local government officials and offices and the DepEd since 2004.
“We have tried hard to comply with all the requirements set by the local government and the Deped even if some of it was not fit for an AP school like an electrical permit yet the school has no electricity,” she said.
Casagda said they were only able to comply with all the requirements to operate the schools in 2007 and have abided with yearly renewals.
“Our permit to operate will expire in July (2015) and we are in the process of renewing it. We have not violated any policy or laws yet Fadul directly endorsed it to the regional office without giving us due notice,” she said.
Casagda said they even have an ongoing project with the DepEd national office which recently made an inspection of the schools.
“The DepEd national donated a building in our school in (Sitio) Dulyan (Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod),” she said.
Casagda also said they have submitted their annual curriculum for the scrutiny of the DepEd Division and have contributed to IP Curriculum being developed by the DepEd National Office.
Casagda said that the schools run STTILCI was requested by Salugpungan, the organization of the Talaingod Manobos and was only facilitated by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.
“As far as we are concerned, the biggest stakeholder is the Salugpungan itself, whether they want the schools closed down or not because it is them who requested it. The DepEd must also consult them whether they like to have Army personnel as para-teachers or not,” said Casagda.
Casagda said the provincial government of Davao del Norte called for a dialogue last April 6 where the Army attended to sort out the complaints of Salugpungan on the attack on schools.
“There are complaints because there are really harassments on the ground and the tribal council should have gone to the areas to see it for themselves, and have acted to stop it but nothing happened, now this,” she said.
She said she have also attended all the inquiries of the local government, the last of which was June of last year.
“However, in April of 2014, the militarization started. The Army entered in all of the communities, according to residents, harassed and threatened them,” she said.
Casagda said the converging point of the evacuating residents was Sitio Nasilaban where they took shelter in a Salugpungan school after walking for days.
“This is when the Army started to harass us and accused us of leading and organizing the evacuation of the people. But, how can we possibly do that where in fact it was the Salugpungan leadership of the Datus who made the decision,” she said.
Casagda said that since then, the accusations that they are a school owned by the communists and that they are supporting NPA guerrillas began.
“That is when the tribal council members and the local government acted as if we have not known each other for years and that they have not monitored STTILCI’s status,” she said.
Casagda said they also have continuously improved the skills and trainings of teachers and have encouraged teacher-aides to take the Licensure Exam for Teachers as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Garcia said the attack on schools “is depriving children of their right to development and to have a better life by having an education.”
“I doubt that the DepEd would be able to serve the Manobos if they close down the Salugpungan schools, they have not done so for so many years. The move will again deny the IP children education,” he said.
In a statement, Benjie Valbuena, Alliance of Concerned Teachers national chairman, said, “Dr. Fadul is a big disgrace for the education department.”
“Instead of recognizing and appreciating the big help that the STTICLC is doing, Dr. Fadul instead allowed herself to be used by the military and other armed groups of the state in their continuing attack and abuses,” he said.
“Her action in favor of the human rights abusers shows that she is not yet satisfied with her inutility to provide state school for the residents. Dr. Fadul should immediately vacate her position. DepEd is for educators not for military and human rights abuser,” said Valbuena.
Casagda appealed to the DepEd, whom she addressed as “co-educators” to be “professional in handling this situation.”
“We appeal that they put the education of the children at the center of this,” he said.