Reports about the attacks on schools in Mindanao are worrying.
Allegations, corroborated by victims themselves, that some of these attacks were carried out by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and paramilitary should send shivers down the spine of peace-loving residents in far-flung communities.
One or two reports about such brazen attacks can be shrugged off as “isolated” incidents, the same way that a Palace official dismissed the growing cases of “tanim-bala” or planting of bullets at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. But when there are persistent stories that dozens of schools have been attacked, their officials harassed and the children themselves traumatized and prevented from attending classes, then government officials should shake off their indifference and seriously look into the matter.
Like places of worship, educational institutions should not be impacted by the enmity and violence between rebels and state troopers. Even if a particular school had really been put up by left-leaning groups or organizations, it should not be the target of some fervid military personnel.
Save our Schools, a network of advocates of education rights, claimed to have recorded 95 cases of attacks against teachers and students in Lumad schools in Mindanao since September last year.
Ninety-five cases in 14 months? That’s more than six cases a week. Are schools turning out to be the new battleground of rebels and state troopers who should be protecting the citizens?
A report from Mindanao claimed that one of the schools attacked was the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in Barangay White Culaman, Kitaokitao, Bukidnon. The school was destroyed by some village leaders aided by a number of soldiers. The school named after a slain Italian priest was being run by a private organization.
Save Our Schools Network claimed that military encampment in schools have also intensified.
“Our schools have been targeted for closure, encampment, vilification, and harassments by the military. Since April, Lumad children have been holding classes in evacuation centers after their schools were closed down and after soldiers have encamped their communities,” Jomorito Guaynon, spokesperson of Manilakbayan Mindanao, said.
Schools are wellsprings of knowledge and instruction. They are far more valuable than gold mines because in these institutions, leaders, inventors, healers, teachers, lawyers, social workers are “forged.” Schools instruct children, train the youth and mold them to be the kind of citizens on whose shoulders this country will stand.
An attack on a school is an attack on innocent children and an incursion on their right to peaceful education.
Students, members of tribes or not, should absorb knowledge without fear of being attacked. It is a shame that zones of peace should be turned into zones of conflict. That such horrid acts continue is a stain that concerned Filipinos should collectively wipe out.
(The author is Head Teacher III at Casitan Elementary School in Cagayan)