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Release permits to lumad schools now concern group says

DAVAO CITY (Agencies) : Save our Schools Network denounced yet another attempt of the Department of Education Region XI to delay and foil the operation of not less than 24 lumad community schools in Mindanao branded by the Armed Forces of The Philippines as Communist’s schools, resulting to further denial of lumad children’s right to education.

Alberto Escobarte, regional director of the Department of Education, refused to release the permits of Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Centre (STTICLC) and Mindanao Interfaith Services Incorporated (MISFI) Academy in Davao region, saying that the releasing of school permits will now be held in division offices based on the new approved procedures.

Madella Santiago, spokesperson of the Save our Schools Network, which was formed by child-
focussed non-government organ-
isations and church-based groups, said during a protest action outside the office of the Philippine president on June 23 that Escobarte had once announced that these schools were permitted to run and he, as regional director, should consider the welfare of lumad students, especially that the school year has already started. 

“We fear that this arbitrary procedure that he himself set will only burden the schools with additional requirements, requirements never once mentioned in the official guidelines of the Department of Education,” she said. 

Davao del Norte schools superintendent Josephine Fadul recommended in a letter in May that at least 24 schools of the STTICLC and the MISFI Academy will be closed. The letter also indicated that a public school will be established in Talaingod, and military officers will be used as para-teachers. The closure has deprived 2,896 lumad children of their rights to education. 

According to Santigao, these schools, which are all products of the cooperation between lumad people’s organisations and various non-government organisations to provide free education to indigenous children, have been long subjected to military encampment, harassments of teachers and students and malicious branding by the Armed Forces of The Philippines as training grounds of the Communist.

Santiago said that cases of attacks on schools have already been filed to the Department of Education and other authorities since 2012 but to no avail.

“Not only does the Department of Education maintain maximum tolerance towards cases of military attacks on lumad schools and other violations against teachers and students, it also makes concerted efforts with the military to close down schools,” Santiago stated.

She stressed that the Department of Education is ungrateful. Instead of giving gratitude and appreciating the contribution of these schools in providing education to far-flung communities not reached by government learning centres, the education department allows itself to be used by the Armed Forces of The Philippines in committing grave child rights violations.

Santiago said that the orchestrated moves of the Department of Education and Armed Forces of The Philippines has resulted to the delay of school opening and low turnout of enrollees.

According to her, the military has recently harassed and sowed terror among school administrators and community members in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. 

She cited an example in Sitio Tibucag in which the military ordered the tribal chieftain to burn down the Salugpongan school in their community and warned the parents not to enroll their children. Due to this, only three students enrolled for this school year.

On the other hand, Santiago expressed high admiration to the determination of the lumad people to defend their schools. She cited that a  picket was set up in front of Department of Education Region XI in Davao City to demand, among others, the immediate release of the schools’ permit to operate. 

At the same time, the MISFI academy was able to get the assistance of the University of Immaculate Conception in Davao City which has allowed them to temporarily use its facilities in order to hold classes while the permit is still being withheld.

“Despite the situation, lumad schools are still determined to continue their duty in providing education to indigenous children," she said, adding that her group is calling for all advocates and concerned citizens to add their voices in the call to end military attacks on schools and protect the community schools.

The group also accused the Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman of being oblivious to the plight of indigenous children who are denied of their right to education.

In a press release issued on June 23, Soliman accused “nongovernmental and faith-based organ-
isations” for using the lumad children by asking them to join the protest in front of the Department of Education. Soliman said that the children are getting wet under the rain and they did not eat on time. “They should be in school. It is not right to bring these children to rallies,” she said in the statement.

In response, the Save Our School network commented through its Facebook account on June 25, saying, “Instead of claiming the children had been ‘used’ in the protest, maybe she should listen to children’s demands and send letters to the military to spare the school and indigenous communities from military operations.”