DepEd upholds lumad school

The Department of Education last Tuesday issued a statement that it “did not order the closure of any school serving indigenous people’s learners.” “This is in view of a recent claim,” it added, “that a Salugpongan learning center in the [Davao] region was closed down ‘upon the order of the Department.”

Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc. (STTICLCI) in Talaingod, Davao del Norte – the school referred to – was one of the three private indigenous people’s schools in the region that were granted a permit to operate in 2014, the DepEd statement pointed out.

DepEd’s division superintendent in Davao del Norte, Josephine Fadul, also clarified: “We do not issue a closure order. The Division of Davao del Norte has no authority to issue such. If there is, the order should be issued by the Department of Education Central Office in Manila.”

Both clarifications were made in reaction to a claim by a group of tribal leaders who held a press conference to announce that closure of two STTICLCI schools (in sitios Nasilaban and Dulyan) was a “community decision supported by a resolution issued by the IP community council.” Fadul noted the announcement but made no comment if, from the DepEd viewpoint, it wasn’t a legal or valid move.

As reported in the local media, the schools were forcibly closed by troops of the Philippine Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion and its paramilitary group, called Alamara: the Nasilaban school in mid-November, the Dulyan school on Nov. 28.

Reason for the closure? The military have been claiming that the Salugpongan and Alcadev (Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development in Caraga) schools are being used by the New People’s Army. AFP chief Gen. Carlito Galvez himself claimed Monday that the schools “are a breeding ground for the NPA.”

But note these following points stressed in the DepEd statement:

“It is in the belief and confidence on the role of and partnership with private institutions and community stakeholders that the Department consistently underscores the importance for these learning institutions to secure recognition and permit to operate from their respective DepEd regional office.”

Currently, the DepEd said, there are 73 private learning institutions distributed across the region, with most of them found in Davao del Norte.

Further, the statement said the DepEd “continuously recognizes and supports the valuable contribution of non-government and community-based institutions in helping improve access to culture-based basic education, through the indigenous people’s education initiatives.”

Moreover, DepEd said its IP education program recognizes that “the mainstream education program may not be accessible to or may not be culturally appropriate for IP communities.”

With several dozen other individuals, I got personally involved in a National Solidarity Mission, organized by the “Save Our Schools (SOS)” movement, that would have spent a few days in Talaingod starting last Nov. 26. The objective was to assist the students and teachers holed up in the Salugpongan school in Dulyan who were running out of food and other supplies. They had held their ground, fighting off the forcible closure of their school.

Finally, threatened by the guns of the Alamara, the students and teachers fled toward Tagum City. Trekking on the highway as darkness fell, they called for assistance and our mission group rushed to pick them up. On the way back to the STTICLCI office in Tagum City, we were barred at a police-military checkpoint. That was followed by the filing of a complaint by the police against myself, Act-Teachers partylist Rep. France Castro, and 16 others, alleging that we “kidnapped” and “abused” the 14 students who are minors, taking them with us without their parents’ consent.

All of us, however, were ordered to be freed on bail (P80,000 each) by Tagum City RTC Executive Judge Arlene L. Palabrica; we are required to submit our counter-affidavits within 10 days.

What is it about these indigenous people’s schools that we know little about? From the news website here’s a brief backgrounder:

The setting-up of the Salugpongan school was tied up with the struggle of 83 Manobo communities of Talaingod to defend their ancestral lands against the encroachment of the big logging firm, Alcantara and Sons (Alsons). On Nov. 30, 1994 the communities organized themselves as the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon (Unity of People to Defend the Ancestral Lands).

Led by Datu Guibang Apoga, STTI leaders tried to negotiate with the local government and the military that supported the logging firm. Failing in that effort, Datu Guibang launched a “pangayaw” (tribal war) against Alsons. His followers fought for two decades. Last June, however, Guibang’s sons (reportedly pressured by the military) convinced their aged father to surface and give himself up to the 1003rd Infantry Brigade.

In 2003, STTI asked the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines to help organize a literacy-numeracy school for lumad adults. In 2007, the DepEd gave the go-signal to STTICLCI as an alternative learning school teaching pre-school to elementary-grade students; the main campus was in Dulyan.

In 2012, the Salugpongan opened a boarding school equivalent to high school, following the DepEd curriculum including the K-12 program. The school has two branches: in Nasilaban (now shut down) and in sitio Tibucay, Barangay Dagohoy.

For science lessons, students bring to class any object they find in their surroundings and urged to describe its various features; from there the teacher deepens the discussion. Lessons in music, arts, physical education, and health, are rooted in lumad culture and traditions. In social studies, the class discusses current events. It’s not different from the way classrooms are conducted elsewhere, except for the scarcity of resources and reference materials.

Teachers have to be innovative in planning the lessons. “The students themselves research about the traditional way of life, customs, and history of their respective tribes,” said Mabel Historia, adviser of the first batch of Grade 8 elementary graduates. She noted that in the process the non-lumad teachers (some of whom are volunteers) also learn along with the students.

Noteworthy is the fact that the students in the boarding schools produce their own food. They cultivate vegetable gardens and manage a nursery for fruit trees like marang and durian.

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Published in Philippine Star
Dec. 8, 2018

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