“Military encampments in schools and public places have not stopped and it has gone from bad to worse. The violations of International Humanitarian Law on the use of schools and public places for military purposes have never been as rampant.”

This is according to Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luzviminda Ilagan who expressed today her support for “Og Iskwela Puron” (To School I Wish), a cultural caravan that brings Talaingod Manobo children and their call to  Manila. The Lumad children launched today a month-long cultural caravan in Manila to raise awareness and support for their plight. The children come from the Salugpungan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLCI) which had been occupied by the 60th and 68th IBPA in March of this year.  Military operations then led to the displacement not just of children but of thousands of Manobos in Talaingod, Pantaron Range, Davao del Norte.

Ilagan raised concern following reports from human rights group Karapatan that a corn sheller and a school at Sitio Kabulohan, Brgy. Buhisan, San Agustin, Surigao del Sur were set on fire last October 27 in the course of the combat operations by the joint forces of the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion under LTC. Jesus Durante, 36th  IB, 3rd  Special Forces Battalion, 401st Brigade, elements of CAFGU, and the paramilitary group of Calpit Egua and Marcos Bocales.

The corn sheller was a donation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the community. The men also set on fire a UNICEF tarpaulin with a sign, “All schools are peace zones. Don’t use it as command post, detachment and supply depots. RA 7610 Protection of the Rights of Children”.  Residents who tried to put out the fire were indiscriminately fired at. One of the school’s teachers Josephine Trimidal, who is eight months pregnant, and her husband jumped from their nearby house to avoid the bullets. The teachers living in the teachers’ cottage, Julieto and Melanie Trimidal and their one-year old son also jumped from the cottage and ran towards the nearby river.

As a result, some 1,800 individuals from 16 Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur have left their homes and are now at the Diatagon Barangay Gym.  At least 10 community schools and learning centers suspended classes affecting almost 900 pupils. The military also ransacked a community cooperative school.

“President Aquino has targeted Lumad schools, its teachers and their students and has effectively deprived Lumad children of their right to education in pursuing its counter insurgency campaign against the New Peoples Army,, Oplan Bayanihan. We shall push for an onsite investigation and urge concerned agencies to take necessary measures to put those responsible for these atrocities to justice.”

“Listen to the children and let us uphold their right to education. Let us fully support their call for an end to all military operations, the pull out of troops from their schools and communities and the resumption of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.”#

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