Students and the teachers of an alternative boarding school for Lumads in Surigao del Sur pick up the pieces after being displaced by militarization for 40 days.
BY MARIFE MAGBANUA
Contributed to Bulatlat.com
LIANGA, SURIGAO DEL SUR – The vegetable garden was stunted by weeds thriving in the abandoned plots. Still, the legume plants, originally intended to be used only as green manure, yielded a good crop of peanuts.
Thus was how students of the Lumad school in Lianga tried to make the best of the situation, when they returned after 40 days at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Tandag, Surigao del Sur.
Students of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development or ALCADEV eagerly started their disrupted classes although apprehension is clearly seen in their faces. ALCADEV was maliciously branded by the 58th Infantry Battalion and the 401st Infantry Brigade as a communist front at the height of the military operations in Diatagon, Lianga town, which prompted indigenous peoples’ to evacuate in July.
Eager to touch the fertile soil, students together with their teachers, resume their lessons and activities. Garden plots are gradually revived; farm clearings are being simultaneously done by students from all year levels before planting the plots with different vegetables intercropped with nitrogen-fixing crops and insect-repellant plants.
Evacuation and Recovery
For two months, the students’ farm lots were left unattended. ALCADEV even had to cancel its fifth foundation day celebration in July. On July 18, the teachers and students joined the surrounding indigenous communities in evacuating after the military deployment in the area intensified. The soldiers’ presence reminded the Lumad residents of their evacuation in 2005 after five men went missing in Magkahunaw community and Jessie Bacasmas of Emerald community was killed. After the next wave of evacuation in 2007, the Lumads found their homes, fields and schools ransacked and ravaged.
At the evacuation center in Tandag, the ALCADEV students continued with their classes, while the Lumad leaders negotiated for the military pull out from the area. Their farming lessons and activities, however, were stalled for the duration of the evacuation as there are no farm lots and garden plots in Tandag.
When they returned to the school after the soldiers finally pulled out on August 30, the first thing the students did was to go back to their fields and check what they can recover.
Students are now busy mulching their plants using dried grasses and leaves to maintain soil moisture. Others went to the abaca field to do under brushing maintenance. Some were assigned to check and rehabilitate the fishponds –patching up holes in the dikes and transferring tilapia fingerlings to other blocks. Pigs and chickens are being gradually placed back in their original pens. Students gave special care to these animals to help them recover from stressful conditions in traveling during the evacuation and back. Everybody’s mind is filled with rebuilding concerns in school and community.
“Makapalagsik kaayo ni nga mga boluhaton sa pagkat-on. Dili namo ni mahimo sa evacuation center.Mao dili gyud mi gusto mobakwet kay dili ta katuon ug insakto didto.Gani, bisan gipasumanginlan ang among school,dili gyud mi mahugno.Hinuon ,mas nahagit nga motapos sa ALCADEV (“These are very energizing activities for us in learning. We can’t do these when we were in the evacuation center. We do not really want to evacuate because you cannot properly learn lessons there. Though our school was maliciously branded, we will never be discouraged. Instead we are challenged to finish our studies in ALCADEV),” said Joseph, a Year II learner.
Military officials led by 58th IB chief Col. Benjamin Pedralvez and 401st Infantry Brigade chief Col. Danilo Fabian had insisted that ALCADEV was “illegal” because it was not accredited by the Department of Education (DepEd). The two officials, however, failed to justify their actions when Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima asked them if the lack of DepEd accreditation was enough basis for the school to be deemed illegal.
On August 29, the provincial office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples presented to the military a national memo from the national office certifying the evacuation, as well as organizing non-formal classes as legitimate. The military had accused ALCADEV of supplying food to rebels and implemented food blockade in June up to the time the communities evacuated.
On the first weekend of October, most of the students went home to help their families rebuild their homes and community farms. Joy, a Year III student, engaged her parents in a family meeting to come up with a comprehensive plan to rehabilitate their farm. They need to make up for lost time after having abandoned their farm for 40 days to be able to get a good harvest. They also had to intensify the planting of long-term crops, like food crops, as against cash crops like abaca.
“Naka- kwarta pa pod mi sa halin sa amo abaca sa pagbalik namo sa among umahan.Makapalit pa mi ug bugas samtang nag plastar na pod sa among umahan human sa bakwet ug makapadayun sa among pagtuon, (We were able to get money from the abaca fiber we sold. With this, we were able to buy rice while in the process of rehabilitating our farm and continuing our studies.)” said Joy.