Everyone loses if schools shut down

The Department of Education’s order to suspend the operations of 55 lumad schools, mostly in Davao del Norte, is the latest challenge in the Mindanao indigenous people’s struggle to keep running their own schools as an expression of their cultural autonomy and identity.

Should the DepEd order lead to the total shutdown of the schools – as scores of them have already been closed in the last few years, “forcibly” as averred by school administrators and IP community leaders – it would mean a loss not only to the lumad but to everyone else involved in this issue. Let me show why.

The order was issued against schools owned and run by a nongovernment organization, the Salugpungan Ta’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc. The much-criticized decision was made by the DepEd’s regional officer-in-charge, based on a report by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. that the Salugpungan schools were “using” the schoolchildren in rallies and that they were being taught “ideologies that advocate against the government.” To support his claim, Esperon attached to his report an affidavit by Melvin Loyod, a recent Salugpungan school graduate and former volunteer teacher in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

Protests, criticisms, and condemnations of the DepEd order have been raised by various sources.

An editorial by the Philippine Daily Inquirer asked if Esperon’s charges were “true in the first place” and if the DepEd had conducted “an independent investigation to verify them before it made a decision to shutter the schools.” Thus far, PhilStar.com has reported DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan as claiming the suspension order is not yet final as they await the school administrators’ compliance with the “show-cause order” (arguing why their operations shouldn’t be suspended). But it also quoted Secretary Leonor Briones as saying that DepEd would be “accountable and vulnerable if we don’t act on this very serious charge [of Esperon].”

I have a copy of Melvin Loyod’s affidavit, which Esperon attached to his report. It appears that Loyod signed it on Dec. 6, 2018.

On that same date, Talaingod police chief Rogaciano R. Gara submitted Loyod’s affidavit (along with that of Loyod’s father) to the Davao del Norte provincial prosecution office as “additional evidence” to the complaint he had filed, on Nov. 28, against this columnist and 17 others. The original complaint was about “kidnapping and failure to return a minor” in relation to a National Solidarity Mission I joined which responded to the call for help of Salugpungan school children and teachers forced out of their school at sundown on Nov. 28.

In his affidavit, Loyod claimed the Salugpungan schools “required its students to join rallies against the government,” that without the parents’ knowledge and consent “we go to different places and schools, like in Manila, to perform cultural shows for the school’s benefactors and to solicit donations.” He also claimed that a module used for teaching didn’t cover subjects in the DepEd curriculum but “topics against the government [armed] forces.” Worse, he implicated his younger sister, a Salugpungan student, by alleging that on Nov, 23, 2018, she had told him “in confidence that they were already being taught to use firearms and that they were set for a ‘test mission’ against the government by attacking military/police outpost in ComVal province in December 2018.”

What led Loyod to sign an affidavit making such allegations? Up to early November 2018 he was still a volunteer teacher of Salugpungan (starting in September after graduating from Grade 12). Before that he was very critical of the military incursions in the lumad communities and in the Salugpungan schools.

In October 2014 he had joined 12 other Grade 8 students in a caravan from Mindanao to Manila as part of a “Save our Schools” campaign calling for the pullout of military forces occupying their communities. News reports at the time said that aerial bombings in Talaingod forced 1,700 residents to march all the way to Davao City to seek sanctuary.

Interviewed by Bulatlat.com at the time, Loyod said that earlier, in March, soldiers entered into their communities in Talaingod and “disrupted our school graduation.” He also said that the soldiers (which news reports then said were from the 60th and 68th IB of the Philippine Army and augmenting forces), warned Salugpungan’s Grade 7 students not to study there “because it is an NPA school.”

Now, in his December 2018 affidavit, Loyod said his father ordered him to stop teaching in Salugpungan in early November, “when the tribal chiefs are discussing for the closure the school in Nasilaban.” “I obeyed,” he said.

His father, Toting Loyod, appears to be illiterate. A “supplemental affidavit-complaint” allegedly executed by him was signed – not by him but by Melvin (with the note “Assisted by:”). A thumbprint (presumably of Toting} appears over his name as affiant.

The affidavit, which generally affirms Melvin’s claims in his own affidavit, is oddly prepared: Toting’s alleged statements are written in English, and the Visayan translations follow in parentheses. (In Melvin’s affidavit, the sequence is the reverse, which is the usual way.)

Noticeably, Toting began by affirming that he is “the same and identical person who executed a complaint-affidavit against” 17 persons that included myself, Rep. France Castro, several religious pastors, and Salugpungan teachers and staff.

Thus, the ludicrous case of “child abuse” against our group – we had merely responded to an urgent call for help in the middle of the night – relies for “evidence” mainly on these two affidavits, which were probably executed under duress, under conditions of martial law in the whole of Mindanao. We can only sympathize with the poor Loyod family.

And Esperon, too, shielding himself with the martial law excuse, seems to rely on Melvin Loyod’s perjured affidavit to force the issue on shutting down the Salugpungan schools.

Will DepEd do the same? It should instead do a careful reading and evaluation of the “evidence” and reconsider its order, in the interest of upholding justice and the right to education of the indigenous people.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in Philippine Star
July 20, 2019

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