A group fighting for the rights of indigenous peoples (IPs) lambasted the Department of Education (DepEd) for ignoring the long-standing demand of lumad students to put an end to military abuses in their schools and communities.
Around 50 students from various lumad community schools in Mindanao belonging to the Save our Schools (SOS) Network, accompanied by their teachers and supporters, demonstrated in front of the central office of DepEd in Pasig City to denounce the displacement of hundreds of families, including students by the military presence in their communities.
The students and teachers from Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center in Davao del Norte and Tribal Filipino Program and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadeve) said the military’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan has made their schools open targets to military attacks.
The network said there are about 214 cases of such violations documented and reported in Mindanao.
“The DepEd plays the role of an accomplice in these atrocities being committed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Not only have they allowed and are continually allowing AFP personnel to attack, much less set foot in schools and other learning institutions, they further aggravate the issuing Memorandum No. 221 which reinforces and legitimizes the AFP’s abuses. We have long been calling the attention of Education Secretary Armin Luistro to revoke its implementation, but in previous dialogues we had with the department, all that we received are just lip service from his subordinates,” Madella Santiago, the network’s spokesperson, said.
Alcadeve teacher Annabelle Campos, who joined the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2014, said 55 combat battalions are deployed in Mindanao. “This intense militarization of our communities combined with the DepEd’s inaction to stop military attacks on schools boils down to an increase in lumad community schools being attacked and used by the military,” Campos said.
Tonisito Umali, DepEd assistant secretary for legal and legislative affairs, said the memorandum clearly prohibits schools from being used as barracks by soldiers or any related military activities inside school premises.
“Give us a draft of what you think should be in the memo,” said Umali when he faced the lumad students and their teachers.
DepEd has reiterated that the military is barred inside school campuses to avoid disruption of classes.
Earlier this year, human rights group Karapatan slammed the presence of a military camp in a school in Compostela in Mindanao.
Karapatan said the classes of 230 children were disrupted because soldiers were occupying classrooms.