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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Why we must defend ‘lumad’ schools

The common denominator, says the government, is that these schools for indigenous peoples are red-infiltrated. McCarthyism witch-hunt has again reared its ugly head. That the victims are from the most degraded sectors of society, the indigenous peoples (who, in Mindanao, use the self-ascription “lumad”), is enough to induce civil society’s tough response.

The indigenous Salugpungan Ta Ta’nu Igkanugon in Davao del Norte established its own education NGO registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Salugpungan Ta Ta’nu Igkanugon Learning Center Incorporated, to open schools for lumad children in the province. The idea is not novel. Precursors previously began in Bukidnon with the idea spreading for reasons unusually unique to many lumad communities: lumad children have the least access to education. Pushed away to the remotest mountain habitats, many forge streams and rivers only to get to school.

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Remember the Duterte rhetoric “I will bomb lumad schools”? After a long period of harassment (paramilitary agents blocking the path of teachers from reporting for work; parents threatened not to send their children to school, etc.), the Department of Education handed a top-to-bottom order declaring 55 lumad schools permanently closed. It said it sent a fact-finding team that then presented allegations of noncompliance. Advocates claim no due process was observed. If noncompliance was the issue, the DepEd did not initiate a channel to rectify noncompliance; it goes without saying, it has such instruments for that. But it chose the arbitrary manner.

What explains the capitulation of the once grassroots activist Leonor Briones (erstwhile committed to Social Watch International’s “the realization of the right of all people not to be poor”) whose job is that of policymaker? It appears she is not the policymaker here but merely the tool of military red-tagging. Mindanao peace experts point to Maj. Gen. Antonio
G. Parlade Jr. as the chief architect of red-tagging and closure of lumad schools. Parlade, AFP deputy chief of staff for civil- military operations, is an official of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. That is the source of all red-tagging.

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Lumad schools are important for a people struggling for culture preservation. But there is a more provocative angle to their existence. The schools teach the value of cultural self-expression and the principle of self-determination. The Duterte administration has accommodated the unbridled entry of mining interests, many of which are destructive to the environment (and we only have the militancy of a Gina Lopez to remember that). Should we pin it to coincidence that where mining interests use the security agents of the state to threaten the lumad, there the schools are?

To whom would the lumad run then if even the security forces of the state paid to protect them act instead as bodyguards of interlopers on ancestral lands? When government abnegates its duty to protect citizenry in the name of oligarchic interests, it pushes its own citizens to the periphery. Rather than oppress and suppress, it must rectify its duty by acting as the people’s channel for redress of grievances.

The Commission on Human Rights warns the DepEd: “It is part of the government’s responsibility to make sure these children, who are also indigenous people, are able to properly exercise their right to education. Children should be protected from all forms of abuse and violence. This protection, however, should not come at the expense of their other rights.”

The Duterte administration’s quintessence of treating the lumad is the shameless dynast daughter herself who ordered to close down lumad schools, injecting a false sense of political will in an era of impunity and recycling of the corrupt. Seeing through the false veneer, we rise to the occasion with belligerency, for populism creates casualties that many are blind to see. Among the casualties are the lumad. We take up the cudgels for them because justice and decency say we must.

On Twitter: @AntonioJMontal2. Email: [email protected]

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TAGS: Antonio Montalvan II, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Lumad schools, McCarthyism witch-hunt, red-tagging, Rodrigo Duterte
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