Save our Schools (SOS) Network vehemently denounced yet another attempt of the Department of Education (DepEd) Region XI to delay and foil the operation of not less than 25 lumad community schools in Mindanao maliciously branded by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as communist’s schools, resulting to further denial of lumad children’s right to education.
According to SOS Network spokesperson Madella Santiago, DepEd XI Regional Director Escobarte refused to release the permits of Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) and Mindanao Interfaith Services Inc. (MISFI) Academy in Davao region, saying that the releasing of school permits will now be held in division offices based on the new approved procedures.
‘Escobarte’s excuse is very unacceptable. They already pronounced that the schools have been permitted to operate, why don’t they issue the permits? As Regional Director, he should consider the welfare of lumad students, especially that the school year has already started. We fear that this arbitrary procedure that he himself set will only burden the schools with additional requirements, requirements never once mentioned in the official Deped guidelines,’ Santiago said during the protest action of different human rights groups in Malacanang today.
Last May, the DepEd Division office in Davao del Norte endorsed to DepEd Region XI the closure of the aforementioned schools affecting nearly 3000 lumad children. The letter also indicated that a public school will be established in Talaingod, utilizing military as para-teachers.
According to her, these schools, which are all products of the cooperation between lumad people’s organizations and various NGOs to provide free education to indigenous children, have been long subjected to military encampment, harassments of teachers and students and malicious branding of the AFP as training grounds of the NPA.
Santiago said that cases of attacks on schools have already been lobbied with the DepEd and other agencies since 2012 but to no avail.
‘Not only does the DepEd maintain maximum tolerance towards cases of military attacks on lumad schools and other violations against teachers and students, it also makes concerted efforts with the military to close down schools,’ Santiago opined.
She stressed that the DepEd is very ungrateful. Instead of giving gratitude and appreciating the contribution of these schools in providing education to far-flung communities not reached by government learning centers, the education department allows itself to be used by the AFP in committing grave child rights violations.
Santiago stressed that the orchestrated moves of the DepEd and AFP has resulted to the delay of school opening and low turnout of enrollees.
‘Recently, the military harassed and sowed terror among school administrators and community members in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. In Sitio Tibucag, for example, the military ordered the tribal chieftain to burn down the Salugpongan school in their community and warned the parents not to enroll their children. Due to this, only three students enrolled for this school year’ Santiago said.
On the other hand, Santiago expressed high admiration to the determination of the lumad people to defend their schools. She cited that a ‘Kampuhan’ or picket was set up in front of DepEd Region XI in Davao City to demand, among others, the immediate release of the schools’ Permit to Operate (PTO) while the MISFI academy was able to get the assistance of the University of Immaculate Conception in Davao City allowing them to temporarily use its facilities in order to hold classes while the permit is still being withhold.
‘Despite the situation, Lumad schools are still determined to continue their duty in providing education to indigenous children. The SOS Network is calling for all advocates and concerned citizens to add our voice in their call to end military attacks on schools and protect the community schools,’ she ended. ###