A group advocating the right of Filipino children to education lambasted the Department of Education (DepEd) over its inutility on the cases of military encampment and attacks on lumad community schools in Mindanao, claiming that there is an apparent ‘collusion’ between DepEd and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as the former attempted to close down 24 lumad schools recently.
‘The failure of the department to address the issue of militarization in lumad community schools in Mindanao has resulted to graver cases of military attacks on schools documented and reported,’ said Kharlo Manano, lead convener of Save Our Schools Network and Salinlahi secretary-general during the protest action in front of DepEd today.
Manano stated that cases of attacks on schools have already been lobbied with the DepEd and other agencies since 2012 but to no avail, including the dialogue with Sec. Luistro last year.
The group, who was joined in by teachers and administrators of affected lumad schools, accused DepEd Sec. Armin Luistro of being a ‘minion’ of the AFP for following their command instead of prioritizing the welfare and protection of lumad children and teachers.
‘Recent cases belie the commitment of Sec. Luistro that DepEd is one with SOS in its concern for the safety of all persons in schools. In fact, not only does the DepEd permit military presence and activities on schools, it also makes concerted efforts with the military to close down lumad community schools,’ he added.
Manano is referring to the attempt of DepEd offices in Davao del Norte to close down 24 schools of Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) and Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc, (MISFI) Academy, affecting almost 3,000 children in Davao del Norte. The DepEd initially refused to issue the Permit to Operate (PTO) of the schools despite compliance of the latter. However, due to public pressure, conditional PTOs were already released to the affected schools.
“We are very disappointed that until now we cannot start our classes beacuse of the continued military presence and attacks in our schools and communities. More so, the DepEd uses the PTO to repress us and prevent us from giving service to lumad children that they have neglected to do ever since,” said Ronnie Garcia of Salugpongan of STTICLC.
Garcia stressed that these schools are products of the cooperation and perseverance of lumad people’s organizations with support from various NGOs and religious groups aiming to provide free and culturally appropriate education to indigenous children, have long been subjected to military encampments, harassments of teachers and students and malicious branding of the AFP as training grounds of the NPA.
After the protest, the group together with the lumad school personnel held a dialogue with DepEd Asec. Umali to personally reiterate their calls and demands.
“We are appealing to the education department to appreciate and give gratitude to the contribution of our schools in providing free education to far-flung communities and should not allow itself to be used by the AFP in committing grave child rights violation,” added Percinita Sanchez, executive director of MISFI Academy.
The group urged the DepEd to perform its responsibility to protect children’s right to education and prove its concern for the welfare of lumad children and teachers through repealing DepEd Memorandum 221 which permits military presence and activities in schools.
Aside from the dialogue with the education department, the group and lumad school personnel are set to conduct troopings in other government agencies and institutions including the office of Senator Grace Poe and Commission on Human Rights Chairman Chito Gascon on July 8 and 9.###