Education is a basic human right and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. It is one of the important pillars for the holistic development of children. Quality education helps foster their intellectual and physical capacities as well as their socio-emotional well-being as they develop to become active contributors in society.
The right to education has been explicitly enshrined in various international laws including Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 13 and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Universally speaking, the right to education must be primarily ensured by the state. In the Philippines, the constitution and local policies promise the promotion and protection of the right of every Filipino, especially children, to education by taking all appropriate steps in making education accessible.
However, most Filipino children have been deprived of this right primarily due to the government’s meager budget allocation and privatization of education. Marginalized peasants and indigenous peoples are the ones far more neglected. The historic abandonment of the government in providing education to the poor and marginalized has pushed lumad communities in Mindanao to persevere in order to educate themselves and their children.
In partnership with different cause-oriented organizations and church institutions, the lumad communities set up their own schools. In Mindanao, there are already 146 lumad community schools that provide education to indigenous communities in Mindanao.
However, in addition to the neglect of the government in ensuring the children’s access to quality education, lumad community schools and public schools (day care, elementary and high schools) located in the hinterlands are now facing the terror brought by military operations under the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.
Under Article X, Sec. 22 of Republic Act 7610 or The Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination, military use of schools, hospitals and rural health units for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments, and supply depots is prohibited. Attack on schools and hospitals, is also one of the six (6) grave child rights violations according to the United Nations. Despite such provision and policy, elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) blatantly use/attack schools and communities during military operations. Soldiers utilize schools as temporary military camps, barracks/shelter, storage of weapons and belongings or as outposts.
Students, teachers and community members live in an unprecedentedly harsh and dangerous environment with the presence of military in schools and communities. Early exposure to violence is one of the alarming and threatening consequences of military attacks on schools. Last March 2012, elements of the 85th Infantry battalion occupied an elementary school in Lopez, Quezon wherein grade school students were encouraged to watch films showing the bloody encounters of the AFP against armed groups.
The sound of gunshots and bombs and the mere presence of soldiers carrying high powered ammunitions in their schools are very disruptive. Classes are often suspended whenever there are military operations and once classes resume, children’s attendance and concentration are affected due to extreme fear of being hurt by military operations.
Aside from the trauma and culture of violence instilled by state forces, destruction of school properties and other relevant educational materials were also recorded. In San Miguel, Las Navas, Samar, elements of the 34th Infantry battalion permanently used the day care center and the barangay health center and church as military quarters. Children complained about the foul odor coming from the walls of the day care center as the soldiers were using it as their urinal. They also used parts of its wall as firewood leaving the infrastructure unsafe and unpleasant.
Despite the effort of different concerned organizations in bringing the issue to the government, including series of dialogues between Save Our Schools Network and Department of Education (DepEd) National Office since 2012, military attacks on schools continue. In Mindanao alone, SOS Network has documented 20 Dep Ed schools attacked and/or used by AFP while 214 cases of military attacks on lumad community schools were listed; majority of these cases took place in 2013 and 2014.
The following are some of the documented cases illustrating how children’s right to education is violated by the state armed forces:
- Military encampment in the Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center Inc. (STTICLCI) in Sitio Km. 30, Brgy. Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte by elements under the 60th Infantry Division – Philippine Army. The soldiers stayed both in the school and the teachers’ staff house from March 26-30, 2014. Because of military encampment, the teachers and the whole community decided to postpone the school’s first ever moving up and recognition ceremony.
- Military encampment in the STTICLCI school in Purok 12, Sitio Nasilaban, Brgy. Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte which happened from April 1-12, 2014. Currently, elements of the 68th Infantry Battalion are encamping near Nasilaban Elementary School and STTICLCI.
(NOTE: The military operations and encampment in schools and communities in Talaingod resulted to forcible evacuation of thousands of Manobos last March and April.)
- In Cotabato Foundation College of Science and Technology (CFCST) in Arakan Valley poblacion, North Cotabato, troops of the 10th Special Forces and the 57th IB freely went in and out of the school in full uniform and carrying firearms, playing basketball and using the internet, while openly vilifying progressive student groups.
- Kalasagan Elementary School in Brgy. San Isidro, Lupon, Davao Oriental was occupied by the 28th IB and the 2nd Scout Rangers; the Barangay Hall, Health Center, community chapel, basketball courts and some homes were likewise occupied.
- Last October 27, soldiers burned a school after they ransacked and stole the supplies of a community cooperative store in Kabulohan, Brgy. Buhisan, San Agustin, Surigao del sur. The community members who shouted at the soldiers and ran toward the school to put out the fire were even indiscriminately fired at by the military. Another school building with two classrooms of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur was also burned in Sitio Kabalawan.
An increase in the number of such incidents was noted after the DepEd has issued Memorandum 221, series of 2013 or Guidelines on the Protection of Children During Armed Conflict that contains guidelines for school officials and DepEd supervisors on how to deal with military units entering schools. The said memo has adopted the AFP Directive 25 or Guidelines on the Conduct of AFP Activities Inside or Within the Premises of School or Hospital and in essence, supported the military use of schools and the violation of children’s right to education.
According to both DepEd Memo 221 and AFP Letter Directive 25, military elements are allowed to conduct “civil-military operations” such as public fora, symposiums and medical missions inside schools as long as the AFP has requested, through a written request and school authorities gave their approval.
We believe that both guidelines, given its rigid procedures and legalities, is a blatant violation of Philippine laws protecting children as well as international laws. Allowing military presence in educational institutions increases risks for children. The DepEd memo 221 is but a license for the AFP to deliberately attack schools, particularly those schools located in conflict areas and/or communities maliciously tagged as rebel-stronghold.
On the other hand, there are problematic provisions in the AFP Directive 25 that may be subjected to abusive interpretations of the military. Guideline No. 7, for example, states that “If there is a need for the force protection unit(s)/personnel to be inside the school, due to exigencies of the prevailing security situation and/or activity and/or request, they must be deployed and limited/contained to the pre-identified/pre-approved within the school/hospital premises. The provision is unclear on who will determine the presence of the ‘need for force protection units.
Soldiers are also authorized to take photos and video footages of military activities in schools which violates the right to privacy and may lead to surveillance of schools in the guise of documentation.
Protecting children in mind, we are urging the Department of Education as the primary agency duty-bound to ensure the enjoyment of children of their right to education, to:
- Immediately revoke the Department of Education Memorandum 221;
- Issue a memorandum that clearly prohibits all forms of military operations inside schools or near schools;
- Investigate all cases of human rights violations perpetrated against the teachers and students and file cases against the perpetrators;
- Declare lumad community schools as protected institutions to ensure the socio-cultural development of children.
Schools are supposed to be zones of peace. Schools are places where children get their education and development. The state being the primary duty bearer of the right to education should immediately act on this issue. Denying the right to education because of military encampments and attacks in various schools is the height of state abandonment.