“The agroecology practice of the Lumad students of CTCSM is a great example of the type of learning that should also be incorporated in the general education subjects in universities like UP. The deeper understanding of the flora and fauna should be applied in all degree programs.” — former UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan
By MENCHANI TILENDO
MANILA — Brilliance, determination, and bravery amid state-sponsored attacks — the Lumad youth of Mindanao have long shown us how it’s done. Not to trivialize the daily struggles that they face, the strong-willed students of the Lumad school Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao (CTCSM) have continued to teach us the real value of education. Through their stories of agroecology in the recently launched book “Scent of Rain, Sun and Soil,” they have demonstrated the type of education that is deeply rooted from the everyday needs of their own community – the type of learning that truly serves their own people.
Despite their dedication to build and develop a self-sustaining type of education, the CTCSM has been ordered closed for the upcoming school year 2020 to 2021 by the Department of Education Region 11 just this May 22. About 250 students from Lumad and peasant communities in Mindanao will be affected. At a time that saw CTCSM support hundreds of indigenous and peasant children, their operations have been suspended.
According to Save Our Schools Network, under the Duterte administration, 176 Lumad schools have been attacked and shut down (facilities burnt and destroyed by state forces). This resulted in 5,500 students stripped off of their right to education.
With the worsening COVID-19 pandemic and the Philippine government’s ill-prepared online modalities for education, Lumad students have been further disadvantaged and deprived of their rights. On top of the continuous threats of militarization and terrorist-tagging in their communities, they are also now faced with the struggles of practicing their holistic sustainable education.
It is amid these hard times that Sarah Wright, a professor of Geography and Development Studies at the University of Newscastle, Australia, was inspired to put these stories of struggles altogether. She travelled all the way from Australia to Maco, Davao de Oro to witness first hand the organic agricultural practices of the CTCSM scholars and staff.
Wright first visited Mindanao back in the 1990s, studying and working with Masipag, a farmer-led network focusing on sustainable agriculture and food security. “I was so deeply impressed by the diversity of culture on the island, and the rich connection that the people I met had with the land,” Wright shared during the online book launch.
“So when I had the chance to visit Mindanao again, I kept in touch with CTCSM to understand the Lumad situation in the Philippines. I was so deeply impressed by the dedication of the students and the staff. They were so articulate as they talked about their culture, agriculture, even their hopes and dreams. The serious dedication that they put into their farming was truly inspiring,” Wright added.
Organic agroecology as a way of life
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we usually see posts on social media of plantitas and plantitos who have found a new hobby of planting and organic farming. These, as they say, are the things that that the quarantine has done to many of us. However, this new-found hobby for some has been a way of life for the Lumad.
“The practices behind organic farming take time and a lot of effort; and because it is a trial and error process, it also comes with a lot of heartaches. It’s really not easy and sometimes, it keeps me up at night. That is why I really salute our farmers and Lumad students because this is something that they’re very good at,” actress and organic farming-enthusiast Mylene Dizon said.
In CTCSM, organic agrocecology is part of their curriculum. The aim of the agriculture program in their school is to center agrocecology as part of the students’ lives. The school aims to help others learn about food security and have the skills to feed themselves and their communities.
“The agroecology practice of the Lumad students of CTCSM is a great example of the type of learning that should also be incorporated in the general education subjects in universities like UP. The deeper understanding of the flora and fauna should be applied in all degree programs,” former UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan said.
Lumad schools as expressions of identity and rights
To the Lumad students, preserving their school is as important as protecting their land and culture. Their ancestral lands are extensions of their identities. Without these, they believe they are nothing. This is why the defense of their right to land and right to education will always be intertwined.
“I am witness to the unity among our tribe in the face of abuse from other people who exploit our people’s lack of education. Our ancestral domain was claimed by DMCI 31 years ago who thought we would not resist and fight back because most of our elders were illiterate and could not even write. But until today, we continue to take steps to reclaim our entire ancestral domain,” a 16-year old CTCSM T’Boli student stated in the book.
Indeed, their land is witness to those years-long destruction, both natural and man-made. The Lumad students of today carry with them the accounts of their ancestors and tribal leaders who fought and died for their land. Stories of destruction that are worse than the typhoons, their communities have long been targets of environmental plunder by large mining companies and battlegrounds for military aggression.
“We continue to do things like these because we have to. There is no choice. You cannot sit in a nice house with air-conditioning and come up and see this book ‘Scent of Rain, Sun, and Soil’ and stay indifferent”, artist and activist Bibeth Orteza said as she recited a piece from the book.
Orteza also stressed how the poetry pieces in the book were written in a very simple English, reflective of how the Lumad put greater value on sending their message across to the wider audience.
“The book doesn’t present as great international level writing for the Pulitzer, but it speaks to the heart. You have the story of the college student, you have young people explaining organic agroecology. So easy to understand, so easy to make you involved,” Orteza added.
Collective voice of struggle
The book “Scent of Rain, Sun, and Soil” is not just a collection of agroecology stories of the CTCSM Lumad students and staff. It weaves the threads of their collective struggle for the right to land and life. Their excellent practice of organic farming has played a huge role in their day-to-day lives.
Though it is great that through these avenues, we are little by little equipped with better understanding of the things that really mean to our Lumad brothers and sisters, and the harsh realities they continue to face demand more from us. The Lumad are teaching us, by simply just fighting for their right to live, that we should arm ourselves with stronger solidarity.