World Teachers’ Day, support Lumad school teachers as catalysts for service and change

(This is a statement by the Association of Community Educators or ACE)

On World Teachers’ Day, we the Association of Community Educators (ACE), comprising of Lumad school teachers in Southern Mindanao, join the global community of teachers in recognizing the essential role of teachers in their contribution to the education of the youth for the advancement of the nation.

In the Philippine context, where illiteracy especially among the poor and the Lumad communities, the role of teachers is relevant yet deprived of support. Education, such as the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, is a tool for liberation. This is most true for the Lumad communities in Mindanao who have been deprived of basic services such as public schools and have also been victims of exploitation and discrimination.

With such vision, the communities worked with teachers, church people and non-government teachers set up the Lumad schools under the Salugpongan Community Learning Center and the MISFI Academy.

These teachers see the World Teachers’ Day as a reminder of the success of the communities in attaining their aspiration for education, and the valuable role of volunteer teachers who serve with passion and vigor and even at great personal costs.

It’s been thirteen years since World Teachers’ Day was first declared. This day commemorates the signing of the 1966 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)/ International Labor Organization (ILO) Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers to address teachers’ rights and responsibilities worldwide.

But, still, teachers in this country especially in the marginalized communities, suffer from criminal neglect and from human rights violations in their work.

The Department of Education is still challenged to support the plight of the teachers and the rights of the communities to education. Yet, public schools are absent in most communities. Lumad schools who have been operating with permits from DepEd and its Indigenous Peoples’ Education (IPED) program face difficulties and pressure from procuring annual permits. Often Lumad schools, that have no access to electricity, face impractical requirements such as the need to set up computer laboratories and audio-visual centers. The DepEd also contradicts its support to Lumad schools by building their own schools in the Lumad communities and are forcing students to transfer.

The DepEd also has yet to address the protection of Lumad school teachers. On top of the physical hardships and sacrifices, the teachers are exposed to psychological stress due to militarization, as the paramilitary and soldiers harass, interrogate, red-tag and vilify the teachers as rebels. These attacks on teachers, schools and communities are brought by the continuing counter-insurgency campaigns which has instead harassed the communities and schools.

Duterte has warned that he will bomb Lumad schools. But we appeal to Duterte to observe international conventions on the protection of schools and the rights of teachers and children for education. We call on the government to stop the baseless accusations and attacks on the right of the Lumads to education, and to protect the schools, teachers and schoolchildren.

But even with these continuing attacks, we continue to get support from fellow educators and the concerned public to advocate and support our students and teachers in the ongoing Kampuhan and the campaign to save our schools.

In commemoration of World Teachers Day, ACE reiterates its demand for the indigenous people’s Constitutional RIGHT TO EDUCATION AND SELF-DETERMINATION. We renew our commitment, together with the valiant lumad communities, to always find ways to teach their young children about the necessity of their struggle – be it in formal rooms, under the trees and makeshift classrooms or on the streets. Education is a right and we are always there to uphold it.