WHATEVER we think about the manner in which the police “rescued” the 19 lumad (native) students at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City last February 15, and whether or not we believe that they were being trained as rebels, let’s get one thing straight: Bakwit School Cebu is part of the national democratic movement. A Facebook post by one of the participating organizations reveals that the 2018 Bakwit School Cebu batch had sessions on Jose Maria Sison’s Youth on the March and Maikling Kurso sa Lipunan at Rebolusyong Pilipino (Short Course on Philippine Society and Revolution), known as MKLRP, upon arrival in Cebu City.
Joining rallies too is part of the Bakwit School Cebu curriculum. The 2018 batch did a cultural presentation under pouring rain at the Sept. 21, 2018 rally of Bayan Muna and company in downtown Cebu City. The students were also brought to a picket line. “A cultural night is being held here at [the] picket line to signify the Lumad students’ and workers’ firm unity against foreign capitalists continuously exploiting them,” the caption of Anakbayan Cebu’s post dated Sept. 8, 2018 explains.
The 2019 Bakwit School Cebu batch was officially presented to the public on Oct. 28, 2019 at the University of the Philippines Cebu campus. Among the guests at the launch program was Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, whose daughter was killed in an encounter in Surigao last November. She was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
In fairness to the organizers of the Bakwit school learning experience, more traditional subjects were included in the students’ study plan as well. There is also no doubt that many of the individuals who in one way or another helped — or believed they helped — the students from Mindanao were competent and well-meaning. Aside from UP Cebu, Southwestern University, University of San Jose-Recoletos, St. Scholastica’s Academy and Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion have hosted Bakwit School Cebu. Some private companies have donated in kind.
And then there is the Archdiocese of Cebu. SOS Network Cebu held its post-rescue press conference at the Archbishop’s Palace. Since the national democratic movement brought its Lakbayan lumad participants to Cebu some years ago, these organizations have developed a close relationship with no less than Archbishop Jose Palma.
Yes, the clergy has a soft spot for the marginalized. However, SOS Network is not just any organization. It has consistently been linked to NPA recruitment through dozens of Salugpongan schools in Mindanao’s indigenous communities, schools that fortunately have been closed by the Department of Education (DepEd). The last bastion of the schools — Davao City — finally also pulled the plug when renewal of permits of 11 schools was denied by the city government. If you wonder why the Davao region in general, and Davao City in particular, is getting so many billions of pesos from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, it’s because the region and city have been the NPA safe haven and recruitment and fundraising center for decades thanks to friendly local government officials. It was in Davao City that the people and groups behind the Salugpongan schools found sanctuary and support in 2015 after the military got serious in its campaign against the schools.
Davao City is no longer the friendly place it used to be so SOS Network has been taking the students to Manila and Cebu. The context of the Bakwit School Cebu is thus not only military operations but also non-renewal of accreditation and permits by DepEd and local government units. Massive fundraising, especially from overseas sources, and the recruitment of volunteer teachers through the exposure of Metro Manila based-students to Lakbayan increasingly attracted scrutiny from the government. Bakwit School Cebu, until the “rescue,” had provided a conducive and friendly environment for fundraising, media mileage and propaganda — photo ops with an Archbishop is definitely good for establishing legitimacy and credibility — and recruitment
The archdiocese of Cebu should have done a background check on SOS Network before engaging with it. Even if there are valid issues such as the appalling failure of government to ensure that children in rural communities in general and lumad communities in particular, have access to education and other basic services, there surely are more obvious ways of helping the students than supporting Bakwit School Cebu. Is it not an expression of cultural imperialism to bring them to Cebu to go school-hopping, join rallies, and take Jose Maria Sison’s course on Philippine society and revolution? Of course, the MKLRP was likely a core subject in SOS Network schools in Mindanao.
When will we really start respecting indigenous people, stop putting words in their mouths and stop exploiting them? The February 15 “rescue” operation was definitely problematic, but the Bakwit School Cebu, as an instrument of recruitment, fundraising and propaganda of organizations with their own agenda, should never have been allowed in the first place.