“Soldiers are attacking the alternative schools in the countryside simply because the government does not want the indigenous people to know their rights.” – Dulphing Ogan, a Blaan and secretary general of Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran)
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A network of advocates for child rights and education opened a photo exhibit highlighting cases of military encampment and harassment against indigenous schools in the countryside on Wednesday, Aug. 13 at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila.
The photo exhibit, entitled “Bakas: Mga larawan ng saya, ligalig at pag-asa (Traces: images of joy, disquiet and hope)” also highlighted the dire situation of indigenous children in schools built by people’s organizations assisted by non-government organizations. Pictures show young students striving to learn in the presence of gun-toting soldiers.
“We raise the alarm at the increasing number of reports of alternative schools being used as barracks and detachments in the course of the Aquino government’s counterinsurgency campaign. As depicted in the pictures, the presence of soldiers in peasant and indigenous people’s communities, especially in schools, still bring forth fear and terror among the affected population, including children,” said Kharlo Manano, secretary general of Salinlahi.
Students from PUP and sectoral organizations attended the opening of the photo exhibit. In a cultural performance, Teatro Ecumenical dramatized how children were affected by intense militarization and their rights, violated.
The photo exhibit also served as a soft launch of the campaign of the Save our Schools Network. Among the network’s member organizations are Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), Gabriela, Gabriela Women’s Partylist, ACT Teachers Partylist, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP).
“Through this photo exhibit and the cultural performances of different artists, Salinlahi is gathering support for the affected schools and communities,” said Manano.
Sorayda Rangiris, a representative of the Department of Education Undersecretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs, also attended the said event. “The DepEd is one with the Save our Schools Network. The best interest of the child is the primary consideration of the DepEd, premised on the mandate of the Philippine Constitution and other Philippine laws and international law.”
She added, “The DepEd strongly prohibits the encampment of armed groups in school premises, whether forces of the government or forces against the government.”
Dulphing Ogan, secretary general of Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran), a Blaan from Sarangani said, “Soldiers are attacking the alternative schools in the countryside simply because the government does not want the indigenous people to know their rights.”
He said that in Mindanao, the land is rich and people can plant and harvest crops and fruits all year round regardless of the weather condition. “That is why multinational companies have flocked to Mindanao for profits, and thus push indigenous peoples away from their ancestral land,” Ogan said in the program. He added that the same instance also happens in other regions such as in Luzon.
Ogan pointed out that the graduates of the alternative schools in Mindanao in the indigenous communities are exceptionally good. “Those graduates can even give a lecture on the situation of indigenous peoples. It is because of the alternative schools built in their communities. If not for these schools, they will not have that knowledge.”
“That is why education is very important (for the indigenous people). We are asserting and fighting for our right to education because we cannot get this from the government,” Ogan added.
Manano meanwhile encouraged students and other groups to support their campaign and join the SOS network. “As the attacks on schools and these communities become vicious and intense, the need to further our advocacy to protect these communities and schools from military occupation and our children from military harassment becomes apparent and urgent,” Manano said.