Lumad students ask DepEd to stop attacks on schools

“It’s one of our initiatives to ensure that children continue to learn while demanding immediate action from the government.”

Lumad students during their flag raising ceremony. (Contributed photo)

“It’s one of our initiatives to ensure that children continue to learn while demanding immediate action from the government.”

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat

MANILA — A group of Lumad students and teachers camped outside the Department of Education Central Office in Pasig City as they demand that the agency acts on the attacks against indigenous alternative schools.

Led by the Save our Schools Network, the students are urging Education Secretary Leonor Briones to address their demands: rescind DepEd Memorandum Order No. 221, grant Lumad schools permits to operate, and issue a condemnation of the attacks on schools perpetrated by state forces.

The group started their campout on Nov. 16, and said they would wait until Briones faces them in a dialogue, said Rius Valle, SOS Network Mindanao spokesperson.

DepEd Memo 221, or the “Guidelines on the protection of children during armed conflict,” practically allows the presence of soldiers in schools. It was issued in December 2013, in response to complaints by communities of military encampment in schools.

SOS Network has been complaining that the presence of soldiers in schools disrupts classes, and results in human rights violations, such as harassment of teachers and students.

On Nov. 7, SOS Network with education advocates protested at DepEd and gave Briones until Nov. 20 to act on these calls.

For the past four months the Lumad students and teachers have been here in Manila due to the numerous attacks against Lumad schools in Mindanao by soldiers and paramilitary groups. Some schools have shut down after soldiers and paramilitary groups threatened to burn down their structure and kill their teachers.

Meanwhile, more than 100 Lumad schools may also be forcibly shut down due to DepEd’s inaction on their permits to operate and application for recognition. Valle said Briones has the power and authority to facilitate the immediate release of the schools’permits but the department has not acted on it.

The applications of these Lumad schools have been pending at DepEd regional offices in the Northern and Southern Mindanao, and Socksargen – or Regions 10, 11, and 12 – but the DepEd has not released the said papers. Valle added that schools of Salugpongan Ta’tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. (STTICLCI) and Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation (Misfi) have encoutered difficulties in renewing their permits to operate.

Valle said the DepEd Region 11 presided over inter-agency meetings attended by the military to discuss the closure of schools, instead of processing their papers and issuing their permit.

Lumad students and teachers are still holding classes in the camp in what the call as Bakwit School. (Photo by A.M. Umil/Bulatlat)

“As DepEd secretary we demand that she look into these cases of military attacks on schools and investigate the connivance of DepEd regional offices with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in shutting down schools established by Lumad,” Valle said.

Meanwhile, classes have resumed in what they call as Bakwit Schools as they spend their second day in the camp.

“It’s one of our initiatives to ensure that children continue to learn while demanding immediate action from the government,” said Valle.

Rafael Miguel,volunteer teacher of STTICLCI said as teachers, they could not compromise the students’ safety when they return to their heavily militarized communities.

“Children’s life and their future are at stake here. It is only right that DepEd resolves this problem,”said Miguel.

‘We are being snubbed’

Reacting to Briones’ statement in a news report, Valle said DepEd has snubbed the applications from Lumad schools and has been imposing requirements that are not even applicable in far-flung areas where these schools are located.

Leah Mae Serra, teacher in charge of Misfi Academy, said two of their campuses in Carmen, North Cotabato and White Culaman, Kitaokitao, Bukidnon were denied permits to operate for four consecutive years. She said they have complied with all the requirements set by the DepEd.

“The Division superintendent and Education for Private Schools Supervisors assigned for both schools have already submitted their reports to DepEd after their ocular inspection but still, no permit has been released to recognize our schools,” she said in a statement.

Valle said that the DepEd is also asking for permits for electricity and from the Bureau of Fire Protection.

“Are they not informed that most of the Lumad areas do not have electricity? They also ask for the computer laboratory equipment for Lumad schools to be recognized. This only shows that the institution supposedly responsible for providing education to Lumad children does not have any idea of the situation in far-flung areas,” he said.

SOS Network National lead convener Eule Rico Bonganay, meanwhile, said this only shows that Briones has no idea of what is happening on the ground, or the education chief wants to make it appear that Lumad schools are not complying with the DepEd requirements.

Photo by A.M. Umil/Bulatlat

“In fact, it is the DepEd offices that are ignoring applications from Lumad community schools. Briones should also investigate the deliberate refusal of DepEd regional offices to release permits to operate, which is a form of attack against Lumad schools” Bonganay said.

‘Scrap DepEd Memo 221’

Bonganay stressed that DepEd Memo No. 221 should be scrapped as it gives soldiers “a license to use schools for military purposes.”

DepEd Memo 221 was issued on Dec. 13, 2013 when Bro. Armin Luistro was the Education Secretary. Human rights and education advocates have criticized the order, saying it violates domestic and international laws related to the rights of the child, specifically Republic Act 7610, or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act. It also goes against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Read also: ‘Schools no longer safe, conducive to learning for children’

Under the guideline, members of the AFP can “conduct activities inside the premises of public elementary and secondary schools to ensure that rights of the children are not violated.”

However, the guideline only resulted to military encampment in schools resulting in the forcible closure of several Lumad schools.

Read also: ‘Military presence in schools results in rights violations’

For years, students and teachers of Lumad schools have called for the scrapping of the DepEd Memo but to no avail, even up to now, with Briones as Education Secretary. Bonganay said the ineptness of the DepEd to address the issue of militarization of schools might result to more violations, especially that the AFP in Mindanao has now shifted its operations back to Lumad areas after the Marawi conflict ended.

“These demands have already been brought to the attention of DepEd. However, Secretary Briones’ silence over cases of AFP attacks on schools serves as a warning for all of us; her office would be equally accountable with the military in detonating ‘bombs’ aimed at Lumad schools and communities,” Bonganay said.

“For Briones to know what is happening on the ground, the ongoing campout in front of DepEd National office is a great opportunity for a dialogue. We are encouraging her to talk with us, and better if she could visit Lumad community schools in Mindanao,” he said. (http://bulatlat.com)

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