“We will defend UP, our sanctuary, as much as it has defended us.” – Lumad student
Related story: UP community unites in defending academic freedom
By EMILY VITAL
MANILA – Eighteen-year-old Chricelyn Empong has spent the last three years of her life at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, which hosts their Lumad “bakwit” (evacuees) school.
The Grade 12 student said that in 2015, she and her schoolmates were forced to leave their school, Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) Academy, in Kitaotao, Bukidnon due to series of harassment from the military.
“Our school was tagged as a school run by communists. Our parents were labeled as supporters of the NPA [New People’s Army] and we were called children of the NPA,” Empong told Bulatlat in an online interview.
The MISFI Academy was one of the 178 Lumad schools forcibly closed under the Duterte administration, affecting 5,500 Lumad students, according to Save Our Schools (SOS) Network. President Rodrigo Duterte, in a speech in July 2017, threatened to bomb Lumad schools for allegedly teaching subversion and communism. Empong countered this, saying their education is scientific, mass-oriented and nationalist.
For a year, students of the MISFI Academy stayed at the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) Haran in Davao City. Paramilitary group Alamara and state security forces repeatedly attacked the Church for providing sanctuary to the Lumad evacuees. In 2017, Empong and nearly a hundred Lumad students from different provinces of Mindanao then sought refuge in UP Diliman.
When she learned about the termination of the UP-Department of National Defense (DND) Accord, Empong admitted she felt worried for the safety of younger Lumad students and for her teachers.
The abrogation would allow police and military operations inside the university without prior notification to the UP administration.
“We might experience the same kind of intimidation and harassment we went through when we were in Mindanao,” Empong said.
Rius Valle, spokesperson of the SOS Network, said that with the recent move by the DND, they could not help but feel threatened by a possible raid by the police and military.
“This government is fascist to the core… Lumad children have been subjected to vicious military attacks in their communities since the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. Right now we fear that children will again experience direct military and police harassment even here in the city,” Valle said.
Lumad teachers who also serve as guardians to their students are also worried about the mental state of the Lumad children.
Rose Hayahay, a BS Math graduate teaching in the Bakwit School, said their students have been anxious and depressed for about a year now due to the pandemic and unabated military attacks on schools, not to mention the difficulty of online and modular mode of learning.
Hayahay said the recent news added anxiety for all of them.
Empong and other Lumad students joined the protest action this morning, January 19, against the termination of UP-DND Accord. “We will defend UP, our sanctuary, as much as it has defended us,” she said.
Empong thanked UP for providing them refuge as they struggle to continue their studies. She admitted she misses her family and her hometown but she opts to stay. “We persevere because we do not want the future generation of Lumad to experience fleeing from their ancestral land. We do not want them to be denied of their basic human rights,” Empong said.