Save our Schools: Pull out military troops in Manobo communities of Surigao del Sur!

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Save Our Schools (SOS) Network strongly condemned the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its paramilitary groups over the cases of human rights violations against the Lumad communities resulting to the forcible evacuation of around 2,000 Manobos in Surigao del Sur, during the last two weeks of October this year.

“We are deeply saddened and at the same time enraged by the recent atrocities that our lumad brothers and sisters experienced, forcing them to flee their communities; leaving their homes, farms and livelihood behind,” said Madella Santiago, spokesperson of SOS Network.

Citing the report of Karapatan, Santiago said that military elements have mercilessly killed two lumads, one of them, a tribal leader. The lumads who were allegedly gunned down by members of the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion, Philippine Army and some paramilitary armed men last October 24 were identified as Henry Alameda and Aldren Dumaguit. Alameda was a council member of Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), a tribal organization in Surigao del Sur, and had been vocal against mining operations in the Andap Valley complex, while Aldren is a son of a village chief in Barangay San Lorenzo, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.

Santiago added that even schools of the Manobo tribe were not spared from military attacks. On October 27, unidentified armed men burned a school after they ransacked and stole the supplies of a community cooperative store in Kabulohan, Brgy. Buhisan, San Agustin, Surigao del sur. “Reportedly, soldiers poured kerosene on the walls of the school and set it on fire. The community members who shouted at the soldiers and ran towards the school to put out the fire were even indiscriminately fired at by the military,” Santiago said.

Josephine Trimidal, an 8-month pregnant school teacher, and her husband jumped out from their house near the school out of fear. Teachers living in the teacher’s cottage, namely Julieto and Melanie Trimidal and their 1 year old son also jumped from the cottage out of fear of being hit by stray bullets and ran towards the nearby river.

Another school building with two classrooms of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur was also burned in Sitio Kabalawan.

“It is heart-wrenching every time we receive reports of lumad schools besieged by this kind of military ruthlessness. These Lumad schools built out of the collective aspiration of the Manobos to educate themselves and through the support of cause-oriented groups is now being attacked by state forces in the form of military encampment, harassment, threat and intimidation of students and teachers and destruction of facilities and structures,” Santiago pointed out.

Santiago stressed that the evacuation has halted the operation of around seven community learning centers affecting 569 lumad pupils. “Military operations and human rights violations that continually haunt lumad communities, particularly children, must end. We demand all concerned government agencies to immediately provide support to the evacuees and to investigate all cases of human rights violations. We also demand the AFP to urgently cease military operations and pull out troops in lumad communities,” Santiago stressed.

This November, the SOS Network will host Og Iskwela Puron (to school I wish), a month-long cultural caravan in Metro Manila featuring Manobo children and students of an indigenous school in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. Manobo children will perform their cultural presentations in different universities and government agencies depicting their situation and their aspiration for a better and peaceful life, their dignity and human rights, particularly their basic right to education. ###

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