By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — Even schools are being used by the Armed Forces of the Philippines for its counterinsurgency operations.
The Department of Education’s Schools Division Superintendent Mary A. Lang-ayan issued a memorandum last June 26 to all school heads of public elementary and high schools in Baguio City. The memorandum read: “The Charlie Company of 5th Civil Military Operations Battalion, 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army in coordination with the Department of Education will conduct a counterinsurgency campaign, a one hour symposium, in all public and elementary and high schools in this Division starting July 1, 2012, Saturday. This is to enhance pupils’/students’ consciousness about the lies, deception and clandestine operation of the Communist Terrorist Movement.”
The memorandum requires high school students to attend the symposium every Saturday. For elementary, only grade six students will attend the said symposium and the counterinsurgency discussion will be during their Hekasi periods.
“It is alarming that the military is teaching young students the wrong notion that the legal democratic movement and the communist insurgency are one and the same. Such act imbues upon young minds that to be an activist, or to simply be a member of a progressive organization, is tantamount to rebellion,” said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino.
Kabataan Partylist and its member organizations, including Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students, and the National Union of Students in the Philippines were tagged as “communist fronts” in the Philippine Army’s counterinsurgency campaign.
According to ACT Teachers Party Rep. Antonio Tinio, at least three DepEd Divisions (Baguio, Cebu, and Isabela) issued memos allowing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to hold such seminars, where progressives are branded as communist fronts.
Chapters of Kabataan, Anakbayan and several other progressive organizations such as ACT Teachers Partylist also reported that the military instructs students to avoid joining progressive organizations.
“This is what the military does not understand – legal progressive organizations and rebel groups are very much different, both in leadership and style of work,” Palatino said. He said that organizations like Kabataan Partylist are legal by all means and should not be portrayed to students as communist fronts.
“Such acts not only serve as a smear campaign for progressive groups, but also teach children the wrong notion that fighting for your rights is against the law,” Palatino said. “Meanwhile, in such seminars, the Philippine Army hails itself as the hero of the nation, and refrains from discussing the tainted human rights record of the military.”
On Sept. 10, Tinio, together with members of Katribu Party-list, Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran) and Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (Clans) had a dialogue with the DepEd regarding the memos issued by three divisions.
According to Tinio, DepEd Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Alberto Muyot has pledged to ban the military from holding counterinsurgency symposiums, camping at or near schools, and other acts which endanger children’s safety and right to education.
Indigenous peoples groups also reported other instances of vilification and harassment, including interrogation by the military of teachers, children, and locals, and surveillance and tagging as “NPA schools” and “anti-government” of non-formal schools set up by communities to augment the lack of public schools under DepEd.
“In Mindoro, soldiers encamped in the schools that tribal leaders voluntarily set up, forcing some of these schools to close,” Tinio said.
Tinio said that such acts of the military traumatize teachers and children and hamper the much-needed delivery of education services, especially in far-flung areas, which the DepEd admitted to have a hard time reaching.
“By these activities, the government unlawfully involves teachers and children in its counterinsurgency operations,” Tinio said. “We remind AFP of its obligations under local and international laws to respect the people’s rights to life, safety, education, and self-organization, to name a few.”
The Philippine government ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990 and it Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict in 2003. Under both agreements, the military is obliged to consider children and schools as “civilian objects” which cannot be used in any manner for military purposes.
Meanwhile, Muyot said the DepEd will direct all its officials not to allow all other violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol. DepEd also committed to regularly meet with indigenous peoples’ representatives and Tinio and to issue guidelines for the accreditation of indigenous peoples schools and equivalency of the subjects taken there. Muyot also the DepEd will install quick response measures to complaints of violations of the said convention.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), Hagibat Mangyan Mindoro, Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, and Integrated Development Program for the Indigenous People in Southern Tagalog were also present in the said dialogue.