FIRST PERSON | ‘Lumad students are not child warriors’

By PROF. HENRY FRANCIS B. ESPIRITU*

I strongly and vehemently denounce the attack made yesterday by the police (under the dubious pretext of “rescue operation”) against Lumad volunteer teachers and Lumad students who were sheltered in the University of San Carlos (USC), Talamban Campus. Last year, I had the privilege of volunteering as Philosophy teacher for one month (January thru February 2020) to Lumad Junior and Senior High School students who visited UP Cebu under the Lumad Bakwit Program. During our classes, I listened to their stories of military cruelty and learned from them how they were repressed by the oppressive State apparatus in collusion with big mining firms that are out to expropriate and exploit their ancestral lands for these big companies’ greedy and selfish purposes.

I feel very sad and much angered at the partiality of Cebu’s mainstream media which simply accept the police narrative hook-line-and-sinker as if gospel-truth without even validating the facts from the Lumad volunteer teachers, from Lumad students themselves and from their parents or guardians.

The author with the Lumad students. (Photo owned by Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu)

As volunteer teacher for Philosophy (Philosophy of the Human Person) last year, I was able to hear and learn firsthand the pitiful plight of the Lumads under the oppressive police and cruel military State apparatus in collusion with big-time capitalists who are out to own the Lumad’s ancestral lands by force and deceit. It was indeed very enriching for me to be given the opportunity to teach the Lumad Junior and Senior High-School students. Likewise, it was very heart-wrenching as I had learned many things from them especially in their narratives of struggles to uphold ownership of their ancestral lands and their way of life as well as their fight for self-determination and liberation from the shackles of their oppressors…

The most memorable lecture-workshop I had with my Lumad Junior and Senior High students was my last meeting with them last February 28, 2020. In that lecture workshop and as conclusion to all my lessons in the Philosophy of the Human Person, I asked my Lumad students to draw a picture of who they think they really are. A student instead of drawing a picture of himself, sketched the land (together with its scenery) where he came from. That was an “Aha!” experience when I fully learned from my Lumad students, which made me realize that their ancestral land is the Lumads’ self-identity.

After the class, and since that was my last meeting with them, I brought my Lumad students to Persian Palate Indian/Persian/Arab Cuisine at Mango Square Mall to treat them to a despedida vegetarian buffet dinner. I was very happy because I felt that my Lumad students had truly enjoyed our healthy Indian vegetarian dinner buffet and that I was able to give them a new gastronomic experience. And then suddenly, I was surprised by my students with their gifts of Lumad hand-made bracelet and Lumad bead necklace which they gave me after our dinner. I was teary-eyed. It was a very heartwarming and unexpected gesture from my Lumad students which I cannot forget all throughout my life!

The author with the Lumad students. (Photo owned by Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu)

I am sharing these personal experiences I had with my Lumad Junior and Senior High-School students to personally vouch and to testify to one-and-all that my Lumad students are NOT child warriors. They are thirsty of knowledge, of genuine education, of authentic learning. The Lumad Bakwit Schools are the self-help educative mechanisms made by NGOs, Church-related Organizations, People’s Organizations (PO) and volunteer teachers since this fascistic State failed to provide the Indigenous Peoples (IPs)/Lumads an education that is truly liberative and relevant to their experiences as Indigenous Peoples who are fighting for their rights for collective autonomy and self-determination!

STOP THE ATTACKS AGAINST LUMADS!
STOP RED-TAGGING OF TEACHER VOLUNTEERS FOR LUMAD SCHOOLS!
STOP THE ATTACKS AGAINST LUMAD SCHOOLS!
SELF-DETERMINATION FOR THE LUMAD’S WAY OF LIFE!
PRESERVATION OF LUMAD’S ANCESTRAL LANDS!

*The author is an Associate Professor-VII in Philosophy and Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines-Cebu College (U.P. Cebu), Cebu City, Philippines. This article was originally posted in the author’s Facebook page dated Feb. 16, 2021, a day after the police raided Lumad bawkit school in University of San Carlos-Talamban campus. This article is published with permission from the author.

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