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Dirty politics in closure of schools

DAVAO (UCAN) : Groups advocating for the rights of indigenous Filipino children to education say they are highly suspicious that there is underhand collusion going on between education officials and the military in the closure of 24 schools in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines.

“The failure of the (Department of Education) to address the issue of militarisation in tribal schools resulted in graver cases of military attacks on schools,” Kharlo Manano, from the Save Our Schools Network, said.

The Save Our Schools Network is calling for the protection of schools catering to indigenous children. It maintains that harassment of schools by the military has continuously been brought to the attention of education officials since 2012, but to no avail.

Manano accused the Education Department of permitting a military presence and activities in schools and colluding with the military to close down community schools.

Manano also accused De La Salle Brother Armin Luistro, the nation’s education secretary, of “following the command of the military instead of prioritising the welfare and protection of tribal children and teachers.”

During June, the Department of Education closed down 24 tribal schools affecting almost 3,000 children in Davao del Norte province. 

The department has refused to issue a permit for the schools to operate.

“We are very disappointed that until now we cannot start our classes, because of the continued military presence and attacks on our schools and communities,” Ronnie Garcia, of the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Centre, said.

The centre, together with the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc., runs the schools for indigenous peoples in the hinterlands of Mindanao.

Garcia said the schools are “products of the cooperation and perseverance” of indigenous communities with support from various non-government and religious groups.

The schools were, however, accused of serving as training grounds for communist rebels and were placed under military surveillance.

Percinita Sanchez, executive director of the interfaith foundation, has appealed to the Education Department to appreciate the contribution of the schools in providing free education to far-flung communities.

“It should not allow itself to be used by the military in committing grave children’s rights violations," Sanchez added.

Officials at the Education Department could not be reached for comment, while the military routinely denies allegations about its activities in tribal areas.

Congress representative, Luzviminda Ilagan, of the Gabriela Women's Party, said she has taken up the issue with Catholic Church leaders.

Ilagan said that it is important that they express their support for the indigenous peoples.

 

The non-government Children’s Rehabilitation Centre has documented at least 41 instances of attacks on schools and indigenous community learning centres since 2011.