by JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
DAVAO CITY – “We have been waiting all our lives for the government to build a school in our communities, but now that we are able to build schools with our own perseverance, why do they want to close it?” said Datu Kailo Bantulan in a press conference Monday, June 1.
Bantulan is one of the datus (traditional leader) of the indigenous people’s organization Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanuon (Let us unite to defend our Ancestral Land).
Salugpungan sought the help of the Rural Missionaries in the Philippines in 1997 and the Salugpungan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center Incorporated (STTILCI) was born.
The STTILCI has mushroomed with the growing demands of the Lumads; it now operates a total of 36 schools.Last week, the Department of Education Davao del Norte Division wrote a letter to its regional office recommending the closure of STTILCI, citing regulation issues and a letter of request from the Talaingod Municipal Tribal.
Administrators of the school said they have not been given due process.
Ronnie Garcia, basic education head of STTILCI, said they have annually acquired their permit to operate and certificate of recognition from the DepEd regional office from 2007 to 2013.
“In 2013, the DepEd released the Department Order 21 series of 2013, which meant that we have to directly submit to the National Office through the Indigenous People’s Education office,” said Garcia.
Datu Bantulan said Army troops told them to “burn the school”and to “kill the teachers”as they are communists.
“The schools became a target of the military because the schools became a symbol of the tribe’s resistance,” said Garcia.
Meanwhile, Jinky Malibato, 15, and now in the fifth grade, said Army men and paramilitary group Alamara blocked their teachers from entering their communities.
“They must allow our teachers to enter so that we could continue our schooling, so that I can pursue my dream of becoming a teacher,” she said.
Malibato’s school, operated by the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc (Misfi) Academy, is in the Manobo community of Sitio Muling in Barangay Gupitan, Davao del Norte.
Like in Talaingod, Manobos of Kapalong created their organization Karadyawan and asked the help of NGOs to build schools, a grain drier, a water system and a corn mill.
Datu Mintroso Malibato, spokesperson of Karadyawan, said state forces said the structures were owned by the New People’s Army.
“They made this allegation against the product of our hardwork because they want a plantation to enter our area,”said Malibato.
Rius Valle, spokesperson of the Save Our Schools Network (SOS), slammed the closure order recommendation by the DepEd Davao del Norte Division.
He accused the military to be behind the closure order as the DepEd announced it will build schools to be manned by military parateachers.
Rius said the closure order “is the reverse of what the communities hope to happen.”
“Education is the tool for these children to combat discrimination against IPs and to learn how to preserve their culture and tradition and their ancestral lands,” Rius said.