Shuttering ‘lumad’ schools
And just like that, scores of “lumad” pupils in the Davao Region are at risk of being driven out of school following what appears to be an abrupt decision by the Department of Education (DepEd) to suspend the operations of 55 lumad schools owned and operated by the Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Centers.
The July 10 order was issued by DepEd Davao Region officer in charge Evelyn R. Fetalvero on the strength of a report by former Armed Forces chief and now National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. The Salugpongan schools, Esperon charged, were “using” the children in rallies and that the pupils were being taught “ideologies that advocate against the government.”
Esperon, who is also vice chair of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, attached in his report a December 2018 affidavit by a lone witness, a Melvin Loyod, who said he volunteered to be a teacher in a Salugpongan school in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, and that the learning modules there included materials on, among other things, how to conduct a rally against the government, learn the song of the insurgent New People’s Army and clear the bodies of dead soldiers.
In taking action against the schools, Fetalvero, acting on the authority of Education Secretary Leonor Briones, said these alleged acts “violate no less than the Constitution, the highest law of the land,” thus justifying the DepEd’s “immediate action” to suspend the permit to operate of the Salugpongan schools.
But are Esperon’s charges true in the first place? Did the DepEd conduct an independent investigation to verify them before it made the decision to shutter the schools? Where is, in fact, DepEd’s own footprint in the process leading to that decision?
What has emerged at this point is that the department, instead of invoking basic due process and conducting its own probe into the veracity of the allegations, appears to have taken Esperon at his word, wholeheartedly concurring with the military’s findings and suspending the target schools pronto.
Is that fair to the school officials, the children and the communities affected by the drastic move?
The Save Our Schools (SOS) group said it was “appalling” for DepEd, which is mandated to protect and uphold the right to education of Filipino children, to “reduce itself as a stamp-pad for the military who have targeted the closure of lumad schools in Mindanao.”
“By giving this order without due process, such as informing the Salugpongan officers, and releasing this order to the media, DepEd is not only being unfair to Salugpongan, they are putting the security of all Salugpongan students and teachers at risk by this allegation. Parang tinotokhang ng DepEd ang paaralang lumad,” the group said.
For its part, SOS, a network of children’s rights advocates, said DepEd has consistently failed to address the concerns long raised by the Salugpongan schools, including how military and paramilitary groups have “forcibly closed” the schools and even forced the community at gunpoint to destroy some of the school buildings in several villages in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley.
Thus, out of the 55 schools under the order, only 11 are actually operating due to constant threats and forced closure. “Yet despite these clear attacks on lumad schools, students and teachers, we have never heard a single word of protection or support from the DepEd,” said SOS. “We have not seen DepEd officials set foot on these schools to see how vulnerable the teachers and students are from the threats, harassments and attacks from the military and paramilitary.”
It’s not an exaggeration to note that the lumad schools have indeed been a particular object of the government’s ire. In 2017, President Duterte himself issued grave threats against them. “I’ll rally have those bombed,” he warned, “because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against the government.”
The aggression against them appears to have only escalated, with the wholesale closing of schools as the latest tactic to try to bring them to heel. That sweeping “militaristic approach,” as the Salugpongan schools have decried it, may look justified, but lumad children invariably end up suffering the most from such harsh disruptions — deprived of schooling, or forced to transfer to public schools far from where they live or are not appropriate to their unique culture and practices, because the adults in the room, especially those with power to improve their lot and their hard-up communities, appear to think solely with hard fists and raised voices.
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