Groups push anew for an end to US military aid amid recent attacks on Lumad schools

Lumad students join the protest action January 19 to defend their sanctuary. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan / Bulatlat)
The recent attacks on Lumad bakwit school prompted the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) to call for support for the Philippine Human Rights Act (PHRA), a proposed measure to stop military aid to the Philippines.


MANILA – Fourteen-year-old Irilyn Bay-ao was crying her heart out as she expressed her anger over the Feb. 15 raid of the Lumad bakwit at the University of San Carlos-Talamban campus, Cebu City. Twenty-six, including her father Datu Benito, were arrested by the police; seven were charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

Speaking in front of supporters Feb. 22, Irilyn lamented that after leaving their militarized communities, state forces have continued to hound them in the cities. She said that her fellow Lumad students fear that their sanctuary in University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City would be next.

“What happened in Cebu also happened in our communities. The military would come and then threaten our teachers, detain them and forcibly shut down our schools,” she said during a cultural protest of the Save Our Schools Network Lumad Bakwit School.

The recent attacks on Lumad bakwit school prompted the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) to call for support for the Philippine Human Rights Act (PHRA), a proposed measure to stop military aid to the Philippines.

Pastor Sadie Stone of ICHRP Global said they intend to reintroduce the bill into the US Congress.

“We need all of you to talk to your representatives to show that this is a broad community support across our nation and that we can no longer have our tax dollars being used to help the unjustified arrest and killings in the Philippines. We have blood in our hands in the US because our funds directly aid in the attacks just like the one which just happened in Cebu,” Stone said.

From 2016 to 2019, the US has provided the Philippine military aid amounting to $554 million — making the Philippines the largest recipient of US military aid in Southeast Asia.

The $554 million-military aid included $267 million worth of bombs, arms, bullets, and other war matériel that Armed Foces of the Philippines has used in its counterinsurgency campaigns. Rights alliance Karapatan said this has resulted in bombings and forced displacements of communities along with widespread killings, abductions, tortures, and other grave human rights abuses “which have particularly targeted activists and human rights defenders especially in far-flung countryside communities.”

In April 2020, the US State Department also approved two new foreign military sales to the Philippines worth nearly $2 billion.

Stone also encouraged everyone to spread the news about the ongoing international independent commission of investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines called the Investigate PH.

The Investigate PH is a project of ICHRP Global to address what they view as failure of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) 45th session where the council passed a resolution to provide technical assistance on human rights to the Philippines.

“When they passed the resolution, though unintended, they gave a green light to the Duterte government to intensify its repression of human rights and in doing so through its new Anti-Terror Act and existing counterinsurgency programs,” Stone said.

Support from various groups

In an online protest last week, Pat Racela of the U.S.-based Kabataan Alliance shared his experience during his integration with the Lumad students in the Philippines in 2014. They visited schools such as the Salungpongan, the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc. (Alcadev), Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (Misfi) and Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS).

“We were given opportunities to see what a pro-people education look like. An education that serves the community,” he said, citing the increasing literacy rate among the children in the community and the programs of agricultural sustainability.

He said that the Lumad and the children in the United States are somehow facing the same problem, lack of government funding for education, and discrimination in public schools.

“What I learned from the elders is that they took it upon themselves to build-up this school because unfortunately the government does not provide them their needs,” he said.

He also had the chance to meet the slain administrator of Alcadev Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos, chairperson of the Manobo group Malahutayong Pakigbigsog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) and his cousin Bello Sinzo.

He said they planned to go back to the community but the pandemic happened.

“A student once told me ‘Kuya Pat you have to come back, you have to teach me how to rap.’ I hold to that dearly still because this is a connection to the folks that are facing real conditions,” he said.

Other non-Filipino groups such as the Borricua Resistance-New York, an alliance of organizations from the Puerto Rican diaspora composed by individuals in solidarity with Puerto Rican people, Sunrise Movement-George Washington University and the National students for justice in Palestine, among others, also expressed their solidarity with the Lumad.

Amour Castillo of the Borricua Resistance-New York said, “It is the right of every people for their own self-determination, to educate themselves and their youth and the generations to come. It is not terrorism to build education that is pro-people and not built on revisionist history of the bourgeoisie. It is not terrorism to learn about the revolutionary, anti-colonial history of our ancestors, and it is definitely not a terrorism to learn ones right and to protect indigenous land. It is not terrorism to arm one selves with the weapons of knowledge.”

Seana Touesy of National Students for Justice in Palestine also expressed solidarity with the Lumad students. “We can see the parallels between our struggles so clearly in a way that the respective regimes target schools, children and imprison people without charge, trial or legal counsel in order to create an intense culture of fear. To suppress the resistance,” she said.

Meanwhile, in UP Diliman, several personalities also expressed their unwavering support to the Lumad and their struggle by signing the manifesto to defend bakwit schools.

Lawyer Antonio La Viña, an advocate of the rights of the indigenous peoples, was among those who attended the event.

The UP College Engineering also formed the Free Chad Booc Network composed of at least 60 organizations and alumni.

Booc was one of the two teachers arrested in Cebu. He is an engineering graduate who has been a teacher volunteer since 2016.

“I admire the Lumad’s steadfastness in their struggle amid the threats that they are facing. We, the iskolar ng bayan (scholars of the nation) are inspired by your courage. We will be with you in your struggles and the demand for accountability from this oppressive regime,” Froilan Cariaga, chairperson of the University Student Council in UP-Diliman.

Long history of struggle

The Lumad schools or what has been known as alternative schools in Mindanao were built by Lumad organizations together with the help of different non-government organizations to provide education for their children. This is because most of the public schools in the provinces are located in the cities.

‘Defend Lumad schools, our beacons of hope’

Volunteer teacher Rose Hayahay of the Salugpongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center in Davao del Norte said that these schools have permit to operate from the Department of Education (DepEd). Since 2012, however, attacks on Lumad schools intensified and 12 of these schools were forcibly shut down. This is when the Save our Schools Network was born.

To date, out of the more than 200 Lumad schools in Mindanao region, 178 have been forcibly closed.

But despite their displacement from their schools and their communities, the children and their teachers still take every opportunity to continue their education. Hayahay said they will continue for as long as they have the support of the Filipino people. (

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