Around 50 lumad students accompanied by their teachers, school administrators, lumad community leaders and other rights groups, hounded the Department of Education national office today to protest the agency’s indifference to their long-standing call of putting an end to military abuses in their schools and communities perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In a dialogue set by the Save our Schools (SOS) Network with the said agency, 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 (ALCADEV), both in Surigao del Sur reiterated that military operations of the AFP under the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan have continuously made their schools open targets to military attacks in the form of vilification, military encampment and destruction of structures and other properties. At present, there are 214 cases of such violations documented and reported in Mindanao alone.
According to SOS spokesperson Madella Santiago, “The DepEd plays the role of an accomplice in these atrocities being committed by the AFP. Not only have they allowed and are continually allowing AFP personnel to attack, much less set foot on schools and other learning institutions, they further aggravate the problem by issuing Memorandum No. 221 which reinforces and legitimizes the AFP’s abuses. We have long been calling the attention of Dep Ed Sec. Bro. 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”.
ALCADEV teacher Annabelle Campos, who joined the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2014, expressed the same sentiment. “As of now, 55 combat batallions of the AFP are deployed in Mindanao. This intense militarization of our communities combined with the Dep Ed’s inaction to stop military attacks on schools boils down to an increase in lumad community schools being attacked and used by the military and here we are in Manila, sharing our experiences of human rights violations back in Mindanao.”
Simultaneous to the dialogue, a program was held outside the gates of the said agency where students from different lumad community schools in Mindanao testified through speeches and cultural performances the abuses they have experienced from the hands of various units of the AFP.
Meanwhile, Rep. Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela Women’s Party, who accompanied the teachers and students during the dialogue, challenged the department executive. “These students have come all the way from Mindanao to let Dep Ed Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro know the threats to claiming their right to education caused by continuing military attacks on schools, the least he can do is to sit down with them in a dialogue and heed their demands so that they can continue on with their schooling”, said de Jesus.
The group demanded the department to immediately revoke its memorandum 221, issue a memorandum that clearly prohibits military use and presence in schools and near schools, investigate all cases of human rights violations against teachers and students and declare lumad community schools as protected institutions.###