Progressive incoming social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo visits Lumads in Haran

(published in SunStar Davao June 1, 2016)

INCOMING Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) secretary Judy Taguiwalo visited the lumad evacuees at UCCP Haran on Wednesday morning.

Taguiwalo conveyed to the lumads that President-elect Rodrigo Duterte had told them during their meeting last on Tuesday.

Taguiwalo said that it is the mandate of Duterte to his Cabinet members to be simple, a pronouncement he had already made early on.

According to Taguiwalo, Duterte told them that he will not interfere with their office affairs once they start to assume their post.

“Walang bigayan. Walang influence-peddling [sa Duterte administration]. Ang sabi niya [dapat] patas,” Taguiwalo said.

Taguiwalo said once she assumes office, she will check the issues besetting the lumad bakwits.

Continue reading Progressive incoming social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo visits Lumads in Haran

Lumad school teachers ready for opening of classes

Teachers of heavily militarized IP community schools in Southern Mindanao are ready for the start of school year 2016 despite which may face the last wave of military operation of the Aquino administration’s Oplan Bayanihan.

According to the spokesperson of Save Our Schools Network, Rius Valle, about 169 teachers were sent off to 67 IP schools from Salugpongan Community Learning Center and Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI) institutions in Southern Mindanao region this week and also in some parts of neighboring regions this week. Continue reading Lumad school teachers ready for opening of classes

Redemptorist priests dismayed by death of student in their lumad school

( Candles lit during an event for lumad schools held last November in Manila. photo by Mark Saludes)

Alibando Tingkas was shot on Jan. 17, becoming the latest victim in a spate of killings of indigenous people in the southern region of Mindanao in recent months.

Figures detailing the exact number of killings of indigenous peoples over the last few months are sketchy but rights groups claim more than 140 people have been killed since the current government came to power.

Continue reading Redemptorist priests dismayed by death of student in their lumad school

SOS Network condemns killing of 15-year old lumad student in Talaingod

The Save Our Schools Network condemns in strongest terms the killing of a 15-year old Salugpongan student in Talaingod, Davao del Norte on Sunday reportedly committed by the paramilitary Alamara.

Based on reports from the community, Alibando Tingkas, 15 years old, a grade 3 student of Salugpongan School in Talaingod was reportedly killed in Sitio Laslasakan, Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod.

“We are enraged and saddened by this incident. The paramilitary group and their military cohorts will not stop from attacking and even killing lumads in the name of their counter-insurgency operations, even children are not spared anymore” said Rius Valle, spokesperson of the SOS Network in Southern Mindanao

Continue reading SOS Network condemns killing of 15-year old lumad student in Talaingod

Person of the year: The Lumads

(column by Tyrone Velez, published in SunStar Davao on December 19, 2015)

I REMEMBER last June hearing a chat between high school girls walking past the Manobo lumads rallying at the Department of Education office, demanding for the re-opening of their lumad schools.

“My mom saw them on TV, she said it is right that they have to go back to school. Luoy kayo sila.”

The lumads of Mindanao in the past eight months have occupied our conversations, news, social media, hashtags and our consciousness.
We could have ignored their plight as one of the many incidents of lumads displaced by soldiers, or communities caught in a counter-insurgency war, be it in Talaingod, Kapalong, Bukidnon or Surigao. Continue reading Person of the year: The Lumads

On International Human Rights Day, our call to Aquino: Stop the Attacks on Lumad Schools, Revoke Dep-Ed Memo 221

The Save our Schools Network – an alliance of different child’s rights advocates, people’s organization, religious and academic institutions, and individuals – calls the government to act as many of the schools in Lumad communities were either closed or destroyed. As one of the lead convenors of Manilakbayan ng Mindanao, SOS reiterates the call for the Aquino administration to put a stop to the attacks on lumad schools and communities.

According to Rius Valle, SOS Network spokesperson for Mindanao, there are 22 out of 162 lumad schools in Mindanao that were closed or classes were suspended due to military harassment and encampment of thier schools and communities. Military operations and encampment has resulted to 6,000 lumads affected of forcible evacuation and displacement from September to November 2015 alone.

“Despite of the concern and sympathy that the killing of the executive director of a lumad school and the lumad leaders got from the public, there is no let-up in the military operations for the closure of lumad schools. The military not only continued but has become more bold in their attacks against lumad community and people,“ said Valle.

Valle added that after the September 1 massacre in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, 18 lumad schools run by the Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) and Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) were forcibly closed-down as 3,000 lumad evacuated in Tandag City.

In a report of the recently held International Fact-Finding Mission in Surigao del Sur dated November 9, 2015, it was stated that out of 18 schools affected, one (1) TRIFPSS school was totally scorched along with several houses, while two (2) were partially burned. A teachers’ cottage of ALCADEV was also burned down last November 10, 2015 in Barangay Padiay, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur.

In Southern Mindanao region, several lumad schools in Kitaotao, Bukidnon, Talaingod, Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley were also burned down and forced to stop classed due to military encampment:

• Three (3) schools in Talaingod and Kapalong Davao del Norte were forced stop their classes in June this year and were forced to resume in an evacuation camp in Davao City;
• Another four (4) lumad schools have been subjected to different forms of military attacks from October to December;
• In mid-November two (2) lumad schools in different communities of Barangay Palma Gil in Talaingod were forced to stop classes and evacuate the community due to the presence of paramilitary group Alamara;
• In Compostela, the Salugpongan School and their homes were abandoned by the Matigsalog tribe in Purok 4B, Barangay Mangayon due to the encampment of 66th Infantry Battalion in front of the school and along community houses.

Valle added that while the lumad leaders of Kitaotao, Bukidnon were in Manila for the Manilakbayan caravan protest from October to November, 24 students of their lumad school, Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School, were forced to flee as the school was was forcibly closed and was demolished by the village chief Felipe Cabugnason along with the 8th Infantry Battalion.

Valle also slammed the connivance of different government agencies and local government units with the military in perpetrating these attacks. He added that under the Aquino adminstration’s Oplan Bayanihan, several government agencies were used to suppress lumad schools.

Instead of supporting community-initiated lumad schools, the Department of Education (DepEd) complements Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Letter Directive 25 through the issuance of DepEd Memo 221, which allows and legitimizes military presence in schools and other public places.

Other agencies such as the National Commission on Indigenous People and the local government units also kowtow to the military in its implementation of counter-insurgency program by red-tagging the lumad schools and its teachers as well as the community leaders who head the schools.

Valle also reports that in Southern Midnanao, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process (OPAPP) have been actively participating in military operations aside from complementing military psy-war tactics by providing conditional cash programs to lumad communities.

Valle said that the success of the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao rest on the people who sympathized and supported the campaign of the lumad people to stop government attacks on their schools. Aside from donations received, Valles urged support groups to also push the government to revoke its counter-insurgency policies that affects the lumad people.

‘For the sake of the lumad children and the future of the lumad community, we urge those who were reached by our campaign to help rebuild lumad schools that were burned and forced to close down, actively call for the revocation of DepEd Memo 221 and campaign for a stop to military operations in lumad areas,’ said Valle.

A people’s initiative in peril

(Commentary from SOS advocate Margarita Valle on the closure of the MISFI Academy in Brgy. White Culaman, Kitaotao in Bukidnon Province. This article originally appeared on SunStar Davao October 25, 2015)

NOW that the Indigenous Peoples are taking the initiative to improve their lot, government authorities are questioning and suspicious of their good deeds. But many have known the reason why. Dirty politics is again at play, and the scrupulous will always want to destroy genuine efforts for the uplift of the lot of the poor, for selfish purposes.

Very recently, news about the destruction of part of the property of the Lumad school in barangay Kitaotao, Bukidnon filtered into the consciousness of the support groups, sending chills of apprehension on the safety of the children and their teachers who are reportedly driven out of their school by members of the paramilitary with threats against their person.

Why are these people bent on making life miserable for the hapless victims of harassment among teachers, children and their parents in the community? What is their intent? Are these people not aware that by doing so, they are making a great disservice to their own people and their community life?

It would appear that the paramilitary and their military cohorts will stop at nothing until they have taken over the facility of said lumad school. But why? Why are they destroying the future of their children who are expected to lead their community in the future?

It should be recalled that the NGOs who had been supporting the aspiration of the Lumads for a school that would bring education to their children, had been working with government agencies and education authorities since day one that putting up these schools had been thought of.

The Indigenous People’s (IPs) who have been living on the fringes of society because government services had been scarce in trickling down to their communities, have found an ally among well-meaning groups in the fulfilment of their dreams, for several years now.
And now they are being threatened anew, their new-found freedom to self-determination is being curtailed because of the whimsical, unreasonable and unfounded suspicious being hurled against their efforts.

Is it because those in authority believe that the Lumads are incapable of raising their standards to a level where they are already critical of their dire existence, and thus, they are trying to belittle these efforts by taunting them and pulling them down?

Is it not the height of hypocrisy among so-called education authorities to pretend that they are doing their job of bringing education closer to the people when they are actually relying on well-meaning civil organizations or non-government organizations who are doing their job for them?

For the record, Department of Education has not been doing its job and has miserably failed in responding to the needs of the IPs who are living in hinterlands, and for several years, it has been riding on the convenience brought about by these NGOs who have been doing the difficult job of bringing the schools to the IP children, so that these children do not have to endanger their lives in crossing rivers and walking kilometers upon kilometers just to be able to learn the ABCs.

And like Pontius Pilate, these education authorities wash their hands and look away when the NGOs are being vilified and harassed together with the children and their teachers among Lumad schools.

As if they did not know that these schools are legitimate. As if the Lumad schools merely sprouted like mushrooms after a night’s rainfall, while they were blissfully asleep.

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.