Fear in the eyes of children of Kalamansig

Children of Kalamansig participate in a psychosocial activity facilitated by the Children’s Rehabilitation Center on June 28. (Photo by Frances Bondoc)

Joshua hugged his uncle Junard and said, “Nahadlok ako” (I’m afraid) while the soldiers searched their house and belongings.

By FRANCES BONDOC*
Bulatlat.com

KALAMANSIG, Sultan Kudarat — Two-year-old boy Joshua had no known illness before he died on Dec. 13, 2017.

Around four o’clock that afternoon, about 50 soldiers belonging to the Marine Landing Battalion Team went to sitio Tinagdanan in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat. Three soldiers carrying long firearms entered Joshua’s house. Joshua hugged his uncle Junard and said, “Nahadlok ako” (I’m afraid) while the soldiers searched their house and belongings. Moments later, the soldiers snatched Junard and the boy was left with his mother.

Since the incident, Joshua never ate anything and had a diarrhea. His father was not able to return home immediately after the incident due to the threats of the military against him. After two days, Joshua died.

The tragedy is proof that the continuous military operations in Kalamansig have endangered the safety of Lumad children.

This was the finding of a national fact finding mission led by the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network on June 28 to June 29. The mission documented cases of forcible evacuation, threats, harassment and intimidation, destruction of school and private property, violation of domicile and encampment/attacks on schools.

Kris, a 12-year old Lumad kid, walked out of a psychosocial intervention activity facilitated by the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) on June 28. Kris was approached and asked why was he crying. He kept mum for five minutes while tears rolled down his face.

Like most Lumad children in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat, Kris could not read or write. His hopes of learning how to read and write has become remote as more Lumad community schools in Kalamansig have been forcibly closed by members of the Marine Landing Battalion Team 2, 6 and 7. Only four out of 25 schools of the Center for Lumad Advocacy Networking and Services (CLANS) were able to start classes on June 4.

In an interview with mission participants, Mel, 12, said in the local dialect, “We are sad because we are not able to go to school anymore since we have no more teachers and our schools are being forcibly closed and locked down.”

Mel’s teacher, Jolita Tolino, was arrested on February 7 for trumped-up murder charges. Since Tolino’s arrest, the Dulangan Monobo tribe have been deprived of education. Tolino would have been teaching to this day if only she was not falsely charged and detained at Isulan,South Cotabato Police Station. The military tagged Tolino and all the teachers in CLANS schools as New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas.

DepEd, local gov’t connive with the military

The Department of Education (DepEd) and the local government in Kalamansig are making the situation worse.

The mission revealed that the DepEd has been sitting on the CLANS’s applications for permits to operate since 2016.

In 2016, the military forced and threatened Lumad residents, who used to send their children to CLANS, to go to Ma-at Primary School instead. In 2017, the military forcibly closed the CLANS schools in Tinipakan and Narseri and coerced the local folk to send their children to Datu Ito Andong Integrated School. The DepEd school located at the center of Barangay Datu Ito Andong is a three-hour walk from Tinipakan and Narseri.

This year, the military listed the names of the children who were previously enrolled in CLANS.

The two DepEd schools are manned by troops belonging to Marine Battalion Landing Team. The parents told the mission that they constantly worry about the safety of their children. The soldiers are armed with long firearms as they roam the school premises.

Moreover, Kalamansig Mayor Ronan Garcia also ordered the students of CLANS to transfer to DepED schools.

The SOS Network called on the military to pull out from Kalamansig and respect the right of Lumad children to education.

“It is deplorable to close down these alternative learning institutions by threatening, harassing and arresting its educators on trumped up charges,” the SOS Network said. “The trauma and psychological effects of military presence and atrocities in Lumad communities and attacks on schools have long withstanding effects to their well-being.”

ACT Teachers Party-List, Gabriela Women’s Party, Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes (PNFSP), SOS Network – UP Diliman, Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, Bayan Muna Partylist, Third World Health Aid (TWHA), Karapatan national office, Karapatan – SOCSKSARGENDS, Center for Women’s Resources, GABRIELA National Alliance, Bai Indigenous Women’s Network, Anakbayan – SOCSKSARGENDS, United Churches of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) joined the mission. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

* The author is the executive director of Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC).

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