MANILA – Leaders of an alliance of education advocates finally gained an audience with Education Secretary Leonor Briones, although it was unexpected by the latter.
The group Save our Schools Network (SOS Network) hounded Briones at the forum organized by Rappler at the Green Sun Hotel in Makati city.
For weeks, Briones has ignored Lumad students and members of the SOS Network who have encamped outside the Department of Education office in Pasig City. The group has been seeking a dialogue with the DepEd secretary to air their grievances on the continuing military attacks on Lumad schools and DepEd’s restrictions and delay in granting permits for the schools.
During the forum, Arjay Perez, a volunteer teacher for the Lumad and secretary general of the Association of Community Educators (ACES) asked Briones about her reaction to military allegations against the Lumad schools and the continuing attacks by soldiers and paramilitary groups.
Some members of the Save Our Schools Network in the audience also stood up with signs bearing their calls. As they were led out of the forum by security officers, the protesters chanted, “Save our schools, stop Lumad killings!”
In response, Briones simply passed the buck to other government agencies, and said the protesters should bring their issues to other departments. She said her department has done its part on making complaints about military encampment, even bringing cases to the United Nations.
“Huwag ninyo kaming sisihin sa mga bagay na hindi naman ginawa ng Department of Education,” Briones retorted.
The group dubbed Briones, whose nickname is “Liling,” as “Liling Sinungaling” (Liling liar). Earlier, she denied that the killing of Manobo youth Obello Bay-ao happened under her term. Bay-ao, 19 and a grade 7 student of the Salugpungan school in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, was shot dead by Cafgu men on Sept. 5 this year.
“We can also consider it a lie when Briones said that they are doing their job to protect the rights of Lumad children to education,” said Eule Rico Bonganay, Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns secretary general and SOS Network National lead convenor.
The group is also calling on Briones to revoke DepEd Memo 221, which practically allows the presence of soldiers inside school facilities. The memo, issued by Briones’s precedessor, Bro. Armin Luistro, is considered a violation of international humanitarian laws which ban the presence of soldiers and other armed groups inside civilian facilities.
Rius Valle, SOS Network Mindanao spokesperson slammed Briones as she claimed that the DepEd regional offices have been processing the permits of the Lumad schools. Valle said there are still 15 Lumad schools that have pending permit application in DepEd Regional offices. He said these offices have “consistently snubbed” the applications, that have been pending, for as long as one to four years.
Meanwhile, the group also decried the harassment of state agents in civilian clothes and wearing face mask who entered the Lumad students campout in front of DepEd main office. Valle said after President Duterte’s threat of crackdown on Leftist organizations, suspected military men started lingering around the campout, taking pictures of the students without their permission.
“Before, only DepEd security personnel are taking pictures without our permission. Shortly after Duterte’s threat of crackdown against suspected CPP allies, men riding in motorcycles without plate numbers are also harassing us. Is this the start of Duterte’s witch hunt against those who are just expressing legitimate concerns?” Valle added.
Also yesterday, Nov. 28, Lumad students and supporters chained and locked the gates of DepEd as they ended their campout. The group have camped out for 12 days, starting on Nov. 16.
“Lumad students, teachers and leaders declare the DepEd led by Secretary Briones in collusion with the Armed Forces of the Philippines on closing down and attacking Lumad schools and communities. It is an enemy of Lumad children and teachers…it deserves a closure order from the Lumad people,” said Relita Malundras, SOS national network spokesperson.
Text by Bulatlat
With contributed photo and video