There have been 95 cases of attacks on schools by soldiers and paramilitary groups.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Lumád children face life-threatening risks, with cases of attacks on their schools reported in the first Lumad Children’s Congress held from Oct. 6 to 8 in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur province.
They reported 95 cases of attacks on teachers and students in Lumad schools all over Mindanao since Sept. 2014 to October this year, or an average of eight cases every month.
These include the various harassment by the paramilitary and soldiers against the Salugpongan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) and Mindanao Interfaith Service Inc. (MISFI) Academy in Davao Region and neighboring areas. Among the notable cases include the attempt last week of the village captain of White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon province to close down the MISFI Academy despite the order from the DepEd stopping the closure.
The congress was attended by 200 school children and teachers from different Lumad communities, including those who are staying in evacuation centers in Tandag City and in Davao City. It was led by Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran ) and Save our Schools Network Mindanao.
Educators expressed alarm over the violations of the military and government officials against the right to education.
“Lumad children have been exposed to life-threatening conditions as their schools are continuously being occupied and/or attacked by state security forces, this has to stop,” said Prof. Mae Fe Templa, convenor of Save Our Schools Network Mindanao which is one of the lead organizers of the Congress.
Shutting down of MISFI
The latest school to be attacked, the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in White Culaman village, Kitaotao, was named after Fausto Tentorio, more popularly known as Fr. Pops, an Italian priest killed by suspected paramilitary men on Oct. 17, 2011. All the students in the memorial school are his scholars.
In a statement, Evelyn Cabangal, a teacher in the school, said elements of the 8th and 23rd Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army, together with members of the council of White Culaman village headed by their chairman, threatened to burn the school if it has not voluntarily closed by Monday, Oct. 5. The military and the village official branded the school as being run by the New People’s Army.
Cabangal said their school has been operating since June 2014. They have complied with all the requirements of the Department of Education, and expect their permit to be released soon. She added that DepEd officials have visited their school as required for the said permit, checked their papers and observed some classes. However, Cabangal suspected that there may be other parties blocking its certification.
Voice of Lumad children
“The gathering here represents the voice of all Lumad children in Mindanao in their struggle for their right to education. Their struggle is also our struggle. We will certainly not waste the effort of these children” Templa said.
The activity also served as a venue for Lumad children to call on government to stop the attacks on their schools. The schoolchildren wrote signs, calling on President Aquino to order the pullout of soldiers and paramilitary groups in their schools and communities.