Defense of Lumad schools, sanctuaries sought as attacks continue

A lumad student makes an alternative mask out of layered table tissues. (Photo courtesy of Save Our Schools Network)

“It hurts to see our school built on our unity as a community being shut down. It hurts that they are not respecting our rights.”


MANILA – With the end of the school year just around the corner, Lumad students called for support in defending their ‘bakwit’ schools, sanctuaries, and communities as attacks among their ranks and supporters continue.

“It is saddening that there used to be about 10,000 Lumad students. But now, only a handful will be able to graduate because there were very few who were able to continue their school due to attacks, including the shutting down of schools. Even amid the pandemic, the attacks never ceased,” said Chricelyn Empong, a grade 12 student from the Lumad Bakwit school at the University of the Philippines – Diliman.

Empong joined the press conference on June 28, where students and advocates assailed the ongoing harassment.

The Lumad have forcibly evacuated from their homes in Mindanao due to intensified militarization, harassment, and grave human rights abuses by either government soldiers or state-sanctioned private armies. Advocates have long criticized that the purpose behind these attacks is to give way for foreign multinational companies, particularly those in the mining industry, to encroach on their lands.

Among the most recent attacks is the massacre in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, where Grade 6 student Angel Rivas, who was supposed to graduate from Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur this year, was killed along with two others.

Read: 2 Lumad farmers, 1 student killed in another Lianga massacre

“It hurts to see our school built on our unity as a community being shut down. It hurts that they are not respecting our rights,” Empong added.

Attacks on bakwit schools

Earlier this year, Lumad students were also arrested when the police forcibly entered the University of San Carlos – Talamban campus where they were stranded due to the pandemic lockdown.

In 2019 alone, the Department of Education closed 55 Lumad schools, alleging that “left-leaning ideologies” were being taught to students.

However, bakwit school volunteer teacher Monfred Sy said that contrary to government claims, Lumad schools comply with the education department’s curriculum, including its K-12 program and grade level system to name a few. They also teach Science, Mathematics, English, and Filipino.

On top of these, they also have subjects on agriculture to help students in improving their farming methods and maximizing their ancestral domain for the benefit of their respective communities.

“Lumad schools are successful models of sustainable means of providing education to Lumad children. But how did the government respond? They instead had these schools shut down because they prefer a commercialized, colonialized, and anti-democratic system of education,” said Sy.

Need to fight

University of the Philippines Student Regent Renee Louise Co said Lumad children’s right to education has been a long battler ever since.

“Children who are studying in communities that provide specialized training for their needs are being harassed, threatened, and red-tagged because they are exercising their right to education,” Co said during the press conference.

Still, the fight goes on for Lumad children and the rest of their communities. When schools are being shut down, student Empong said only physical structures are being closed and not the knowledge and wisdom being taught to them.

“We realize in times of facism, the rights of children and their teachers are not respected. And we need to fight it,” said law professor and former dean of the Ateneo School of Government Tony La Viña. (

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