Lumad children strengthen defense of their schools amid intensified attacks

TANDAG CITY – As their schools may be occupied or closed temporarily by soldiers, and lumad leaders have been extinguished in their communities, the lumad children in the First Mindanao-wide Lumad Children Congress express their strong desire to finish their schooling.

The congress held in Tandag City from October 6 to 8 was organized by Kalumaran Mindanao and Save Our Schools Network to gather and raise the morale of students and support groups to defend the children from the attacks of state security forces including the military and paramilitary groups.

Such desire was expressed by 13 year-old Manobo student Apad from the ALCADEV in Surigao del Sur:

“Bisan pila ilang patyon nga Dionel, Bello ug Sir Emok daghan pa ming mga bata ang motumaw aron mopadayon sa edukasyon nga ilang nasugdan” (No matter how many more Dionel, Bello and Sir Emok would be killed, we are among the many children who will continue with our education that they have started for us), Apad said.

Last September 1, lumad leader Dionel Campos, Datu Bello Sinzo and ALCADEV Executive Director Emerito ‘Emok’ Samarca were murdered by paramilitary groups in front of the children and parents, based on accusations that they are NPA supporters.

Al, a 17 year-old Manobo student of MISFI (Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc.) Academy from Kapalong, Davao del Norte said the attacks on schools is due to the interests of government and corporations to engage in mining operations in their ancestral domain.

“Gusto nila nga papahawaon ang atong magtutudlo sa atong komunidad, para ipadayon nila ang pag mining o pag ilad-ilad sa atong tanan” (They want to drive our teachers out of our community, to pave the entry and continue mining and to deceive us),” said Alvin.

The mining interests also tear apart Lumad communities as soldiers recruit paramilitaries and organize their own lumad bandit groups to wreak havoc in the communities.

“Mao nga kita, importante kaayo nga kita maka eskwela ug kita dapat mga kabataan, hatagan nila og katungod nga maningil sa ilaha (That is why, it is important for us to go to school for we children are entitled to our rights and seek accountability from the government),” Al said.

Even with the attacks, lumad schools have increased all over Mindanao to serve more lumad children from last year’s 146 to 162 schools in Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental, Surigao del Sur, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, and Sarangani Province. The SOS Network said these schools are servicing 6,000 students from pre-school to grade school and has garnered several recognitions for genuinely servicing communities not reached by the government’s public education services.
A 12 year-old Blaan student of CLANS (Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services) school, Wil, said that he is thankful that a school was established for their tribe as this would give him a chance to teach the future generations of his people.

Another student, 16-year-old Lando from Talaingod, Davao del Norte, said he wants to be a lawyer to defend their tribe from people who wanted to exploit their ancestral lands like large scale mining companies and the military.

“Bisan pirmi gina-ipit among mga eskwelahan, nagkadaghan gihapon among eskwelahan, nagpakita lang ni nga samot nga nilig-on ang among baruganan ug magpadayon mi para makab-ot namo among mga damgo (Even though our schools are always under attack, the number of our schools continue to increase, this signifies that we are resolutely stronger on our stand and we will continue to reach for our dreams),” said Lando.

SOS Mindanao convener Prof. Mae Ancheta-Templa said these reactions show that the attacks on schools and communities by the military and paramilitary groups have only taught the children how to stand up and be critical of the government’s actions on indigenous peoples.

“These students are now more resolute to defend their schools and claim their right to education,” Templa said.

95 cases of attacks on lumad schools in one year

The killing of Alcadev Director Emerito ‘Emok’ Samarca in Han-ayan, Surigao del Sur last September 1 only highlights the worsening attacks from state security forces against lumad schools and communities.

In the first Lumad Children’s Congress held since Tuesday in Tandag, Surigao del Sur, attended by 200 school children and teachers who reported that there has been 95 cases of attacks on teachers and students in Lumad schools all over Mindanao since September 2014, or an average of eight cases every month.

The figures include the various harassment by the paramilitary and soldiers against the Salugpongan Learning Center and MISFI Academy in Davao Region and neighboring boundaries. Among the notable cases include the present attempt of the barangay captain in White Culaman, Bukidnon to close down the MISFI Academy despite the order from the DepEd not to attempt the school closure.

Such cases have raise alarm from educators of the violations of the military and government officials against the rights to education.

“Lumad children have been exposed to life-threatening conditions as their schools are continuously being occupied and/or attacked by state security forces, this has to stop!” said Prof. Mae Fe Templa, convener of Save Our Schools Network Mindanao which is one of the lead organizers of the Congress.

“The gathering here today represents the voice of all lumad children in Mindanao in their struggle for their right to education. Their struggle is also our struggle. We will certainly not waste the effort of these children” Templa added.

The Congress heard the voice of a Manobo student of Salugpongan Learning Center in Talaingod, Roland Dalin, who voiced the lumad youth’s call to stop the attacks of their schools.

“Nagtapok man mi karon tungod kabalo mi nga naa miy matabang labi na sa among eskwelahan nga kanunay gina-atake sa mga militar, ginapasanginlan nga mga NPA ug ginapatay among mga magtutudlo” (We are gathered here today because we know that we can help our school that have been always subjected to military attacks, accused of being NPAs and our teachers being killed) said Roland Dalin, a Manobo student in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

The Children’s Congress held workshops with the schoolchildren, who wrote out their calls to President Benigno Aquino III to protect their schools by ordering the pullout of the military and paramilitary groups in their schools and communities.

Templa said the results of the Children’s Congress will be raised to the Third Save Our Schools Mindanao-wide Conference which would start on Friday after the closing of the Children’s Congress, and said they will raise the call to revoke the Department of Education Memo 211 that allows the presence of the military in schools.

“The start of the 3rd SOS Mindanao Wide Conference tomorrow will feature different support organization and individuals aiming to identify more concrete resolutions on the worsening situations of children’s rights violation and attacks on schools, we will persevere to help our lumad children attain their dreams” said Templa.

The congress was organized by Kalumaran or Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao and Save our Schools Network Mindanao together with other national and local organizations.