“I do not understand why the military is attacking our schools. They do not know its impact on our community.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
TANDAG CITY, Surigao del Sur – For 21-year-old Glorivic Belandres, the two tribal schools in Han-ayan community, Diatagon village, Surigao del Sur taught them not only how to read, write and count.
“Our tribe learned to stand for ourselves and face other people. We are no longer shy,” Belandres told Bulatlat.com.
“Most importantly, we learned to fight for our rights if others attempt to trample on it. This has become a threat to the military. As soon as we were educated, they found it difficult to deceive us,” she said.
Belandres is a graduate of both the Tribal Filipino Program for Surigao Sur (Trifpss) and the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev). After studying two years of college, she returned to their community to work as a parateacher for Trifpss with high hopes of giving back to their younger generation the quality and comprehensive education she received.
But on Sept. 1, Belandres was among the residents who witnessed the killing of their two Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo. Later, she also learned that her former school director and now colleague, Emerito Samarca. was killed by the Magahat-Bagani, a paramilitary group formed and armed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
No less than President Aquino himself, denied that it is the government’s “policy” to kill the Lumad. Yet, at the height of the campaign to disband the Magahat-Bagani, another Lumad was killed in Agusan del Sur, while another school for indigenous peoples in Kitaotao, Bukidnon is being threatened to be shut down by its village chief.
Belandres said their elders had been discriminated and insulted merely because they were indigenous people. To her knowledge, five or seven of their elderly used to brave walking 16 kilometers everyday to attend a regular government school. The distance they have to endure everyday is bearable, but not the insults they get, she said.
“For the people outside our tribe, we were not humans,” she said.
Drawing from their experience, the Manobos through their group, Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) decided to put up their own school. This eventually paved way for the Trifpss and Alcadev. The two schools provided hope to the Lumad people. Belandres said she witnessed and experienced herself what her parents have long aspired for – a quality education for their people.
Being a former student and now a parateacher for Trifpps, she said the two schools taught the same subjects as in government schools. Apart from this, she said they were also taught to love one another, care for their environment, respect their elderly and be productive leaders in the near future. But most importantly, their major subject is agriculture as farming is their main livelihood.
Being a Lumad herself, she found it easy to relate to her students. She described her transition from being a student to a teacher as both beautiful and fulfilling.
“I do not understand why the military is attacking our schools. They do not know its impact on our community,” she said.
Sir Emok, a source of light
After graduating from Alcadev, Belandres worked part-time for Alcadev. She was mulling the idea of attending college but she did not have the courage to leave their community and face the city life. Until one day, Samarca, or “Sir Emok” talked her into it.
“Sir Emok told me it was understandable that being shy is part of our upbringing. But he said I must face my fears because I cannot hide from it forever and that I need to pluck up the courage to face it. Whatever good fate would come my way is not only for my own but also for the rest of the community,” she recalled.
Belandres said Samarca was known among students for his inspiring words. For the young Lumad, he was a “source of light” for educating them how to improve the land they till, and make their local economy grow. She described the slain educator as a good person “who treated her not just as his student, and eventually his colleague, but also like his own daughter.”
Belandres reminded the government and the military that members of the NPAs are armed. She said the students, the teachers and the rest of the community have none and are only equipped with pen and paper in the hope of rising above the conditions they face. The government must step in, disband the paramilitary group and deprive them of the “power” they have to sow terror in their community. Eventually, this will allow them to open their schools again, she said.
She said forcibly evacuating from their community is not retreating from their fight. “This, in itself, is a form of struggle for the Lumad. We demand justice for our martyrs and our right to self-determination.”