By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
The policies of governments today puzzle me: a willingness to spend billions of dollars on military technologies yet next to none on education; the oppression and silencing of the few educational institutions that are improving the lives of marginalized people; the myriad of promises churned out during election years spurned during office and the unspoken commitments of making the rich richer, and the poor poorer. Free and compulsory education is a human right stated by the United Nations, but a free and compulsory quality education is the struggle of oppressed peoples in Mindanao and worldwide.
-Adam Shaw, Missionary, Philippines. United Methodist Church
MANILA –Groups asserting the rights of indigenous people’s to education and protesting the attacks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) have embarked on a campaign of defense.
Earlier this week, the Mindanao Conference in Defense of Schools Under Attack was launched at the Mission Center, Davao City with 118 teachers, directors of literacy and non-formal schools, community leaders and school children attending. It was organized by the Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran) or Alliance of Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao, a Mindanao-wide alliance of indigenous peoples’ organizations some of whose members have partnered with non-governmental organizations to establish literacy-numeracy programs and other schools in their communities.
Also among the supporters of the conference are the Sisters Association in Mindanao (Samin), the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Sub-Region; the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (Clans); the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS); the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI) . Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Assistance Center; and the Educators’ Forum for Development (EFD).
In a statement, the conference organizers said various community schools in Paquibato district and in the provinces of Surigao, Agusan, Davao del Norte, Sarangani, and Bukidnon brave not only the difficult conditions, but also the threats of the military present in the communities.
They said the conference aims to draw a common analysis of schools under attack; draw out collective steps and recommendations toward upholding and protecting the rights of indigenous children and educators; to inform government officials, international bodies and the public of the increasing threats to rural schools and the communities, and press for holding state security forces accountable for violations of children’s rights.
Since 2011, the northeastern Mindanao has been used by the AFP as a staging ground for intensified military operations. Beginning February 2012, the military began to use Lumad ancestral mountain lands as operations area for their increased attacks against the New People’s Army (NPA) ranging from live fire excursions to aerial strafing and bombing runs.
Last July 10, a dialogue was also held in Ateneo de Davao between community schools and government officials to address the issue of defending the community’s rights to education.
“We call for action from the government to uphold our right to education and defend our community schools from continuing harassments from the military. For so long, we Lumads have suffered from conditions of discrimination and neglect, the plunder of our ancestral land, and the exploitation and ridicule of our culture. Amid such conditions, we have made efforts to unite our people and uphold our rights. We make efforts such as establishing schools through the support of church organizations and non-government organizations,” the groups said.
According to IP rights advocates, education for the Lumad people is not only an instrument to teach them the basic literacy and numeracy, ” It is also an instrument to teach the lumad children our culture, our traditions, our direction as a people. Education becomes an instrument to teach our children to defend our land. Education is our right,” they said.
The schools of IPs, however, continue to be attacked by the AFP and and its counter-insurgency campaign. In Davao del Norte, Paquibato district in Davao, Bukidnon, Surigao del Sur, Sarangani, there have continuing reports of the AFP threatening the safety and security of the schools for IPs, so much so that the schools have been forced to close.
“There is a common threat to schools, and this is the presence of soldiers in pursuit of ‘peace and development’ programs in far-flung communities. With such programs, soldiers have occupied our communities, questioned the existence of our schools, interrogated our teachers, and branded our schools as ‘rebel schools’. Wherever our schools are, government soldiers have began to conduct classes for children. We wonder why they take over our functions. They also brand us lumads as ‘enemies of the state’. Thus, harassments and killings of our people continue to happen,” the educators said.
The groups said that because the Aquino administration has done little or even nothing to do away with the culture of impunity regarding human rights violations, many Lumad communities live in fear, particularly the children whose schooling are affected.
They charged that the presence of the military is advanced by Oplan Bayanihan that protect investments and projects such as agri-business expansion, large-scale mining, hydro and power projects that has encroached on the Lumad people’s ancestral lands. IP’s food and water security also continue to be threatened by these operations.
Given the extreme context and social circumstances that they face, the IP advocacy groups said that their schools use a curriculum that is appropriate and relevant for developing their communities and ancestral domain.
They, however, face the difficulty of meeting what they said were the “voluminous requirements” set by the Department of Education, the agency that gives the permit for operations for Lumad schools.
“We believe that education is a right. We believe that government as a signatory to international instruments is duty-bound to fulfill its responsibility to education as stated from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Millennium Development Goals, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Humanitarian Law. We appeal to our government, through its local officials, agencies, representatives to uphold and defend our right to education,” the groups said.
The participants of the conference issued a list of demands to the Aquino government, saying that President Aquino has a very long way to go to prove that his administration is different from its predecessors. They said when it comes to human rights, the Aquino government, in its first two years, has shown a shocking indifference to the violations against them.
Among the demands the IP groups laid down are the immediate pullout of military and paramilitary units in all IP communities for the safety of the people especially the children; the scrapping of all policies, programs and laws that push mining and other investments and projects that plunder the country’s natural resources; the holding of investigations into the cases of harassment by the military and paramilitary against children and school personnel; and for the government to ensure that services to education, health and other social services are provided to the poorest of the poor, especially the Lumads in Mindanao.
“We call on the government and its agencies to recognize if not respect the efforts of our community schools, which have the commitment to serve in places where government support is lacking. We make this appeal in hopes that education will be upheld, an education that helps in our liberation and in shaping our future and community,” they said.
In the first quarter of 2012, at least 125 families from various Mamanwa communities in the adjacent barangays of Ombong, Alegria in Surigao del Norte and Bangayan, Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte have been forced to evacuate because of continuous military operations. Among the evacuees are 53 children all 6 years old and below, and 52 women, nine of whom are pregnant. Children have since stopped going to school and families have been prevented from returning to their farms, losing crops, farm animals and their livelihood in the process.
Adam Shaw of InPeace Mindanao, said that schooling and free education through high school is deemed a human right by the UN, “but this is a human right that most Filipinos cannot afford due to no viable education budget in the national governments yearly expenditures,” he said.
“Education at government public schools is a privilege that few can afford. Many communities rely on missionary, non-government organizations- supported schools. Unfortunately, many of these schools, teachers and students, are coming under psychological and physical attack in recent years by military and paramilitary forces who seek to ‘defend’ investor’s interest in Lumad communities,” he said.