By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat expressed strong condemnation over the demolition of a Lumad school in Sagundanon, Kitaotao, Bukidnon after it was forcibly shut down last year, halting the education of Lumad students in the area.
The school is administered by the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI) and was reportedly demolished last June 5.
According to the Save our Schools Network, soldiers under the 72nd Infantry Battalion Philippine Army coerced residents, mostly Lumads, to demolish the Lumad school.
The SOS Network said that parents of the Lumad students in the Bakwit School in Manila called the students a week earlier telling them that “they were being forced by soldiers to participate in the demolition or else they will face trumped up charges and arrest if they fail to cooperate.”
“Natatakot kami para sa aming pamilya doon dahil palagi daw sila binabantayan ng mga sundalo. Kahit nga sa pagtawag sa amin, kailangan pa nilang magtago dahil natatakot din sila para sa amin (We are terrified for our families because soldiers are constantly watching them. They hide from the soldiers whenever they call us because they are also afraid for us),” Chricelyn, a grade 12 student said in a statement.
Cullamat said that the demolition of the school is equivalent to destroying the Lumad children’s right to education.
“Despite the government’s unpreparedness for a safe return to school in this pandemic, the government continues to undermine the state of education by intensifying militarization in indigenous communities and schools,” Cullamat said in a statement.
Rius Valle, spokesperson of the SOS Network said this is the second time that Chricelyn and her classmates lost their school.
“They were traumatized when soldiers and village officials threatened them to leave their school in White Culaman, also in Kitaotao. Their trauma is revisited as their school in Sagundanon is being torn apart,” Valle said.
He added that based on the information relayed by the students’ parents, soldiers who took part in the demolition of the school wore civilian clothes to show that they were “residents”.
He added that several media posts also validated that present in the destruction of the school was 72nd IB Battalion Commander Jose Regonay Jr. wearing civilian clothes. This has been the trend with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), Valle said.
“First they parade residents and civilians as fake surrenderees, force them to destroy the schools they have built, then coerce them to file trumped up cases against teachers, leaders and human rights defenders as what happened in Cebu and Davao” Valle added.
Cullamat meanwhile lamented that while the country is facing grave issues, such as poverty aggravated by the pandemic, there is no let up in attacking the indigenous peoples who are striving to live free and stand up for the right to self-determination.
She added that it is an injustice that the NTF-ELCAC use pubic funds to destroy the communities, their ancestral lands, that the Lumad have developed and defended for the next generation.
“It is our right and duty to defend it against foreign mining and logging corporations and other projects of foreign savages in the country’s natural resources. The government has to stop attacking our Lumad. Respect our right to ancestral land and self -determination,” Cullamat said.
According to the SOS Network, more than half of the 210 Lumad schools were forcibly shut down under the Duterte administration.
The SOS Network asserted that the Lumad schools are recognized by the Department of Education and that they have pertinent papers to show that the schools were given permit to operate.
The Lumad schools were built by Lumad elders with the help of non-government organizations like MISFI for the education of their children.
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