‘Let children be’ | Manobo kids call to end militarization of tribal school

In Southern Mindanao region alone, the Children’s Rehabilitation Center documented at least 41 instances of attacks on both DepEd schools and Lumad community learning centers since 2011.

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — For 17-year-old Ronald Bongcalas, Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) is just like any other school where students are taught how to read, write and count. But he considers his school as special because they also learn about sustainable farming and how to enrich their Manobo culture.

And for this, Bongcalas told Bulatlat.com, the military has branded their school as an “NPA school.”

Manobo children and their supporters under the Save our Schools Network held a protest action in front of Camp Aguinaldo on Nov. 10 to denounce the continuing encampment of soldiers under the 68th Infantry Battalion of the 1003rd Brigade of the Philippine Army in a Manobo community in Palma Gil village in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

The SOS Network, in a statement, said the encampment continues despite the agreement between Col. Harold Cabreros, commanding officer of the 1003rd Brigade and school administrators of the STTICLC and the Mindanao Interfaith Services in a dialogue last Nov. 6.

Student Ronald Bongcalas yearns to go back to school. (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
Student Ronald Bongcalas yearns to go back to school. (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
The military, during the dialogue facilitated by the Department of Education, agreed to pull out the soldiers and encamp away from the community. The residents, however, said that instead of honoring the agreement, soldiers moved their military camp from the outskirts into the heart of the community.

The soldiers also asked residents to sign a document that would belie the statement of a community leader who said that drunken soldiers went on a shooting spree from Oct. 11 to 17, which led to the halting of classes in the STTICLC.

“The soldiers have threatened us that those who will not sign the paper are no doubt NPA supporters or members themselves,” Datu Teody Mansimuy-at said.

Madella Santiago, spokesperson of the SOS Network said such manifests the “abrasive nature” of the AFP because not only do they refuse to observe international humanitarian law that protect civilian communities from military encampment, but neither do they keep their word.

“As a result, children and adults alike continue to live in fear, their everyday lives ruffled by military presence,” Santiago said.

In Southern Mindanao region alone, the Children’s Rehabilitation Center documented at least 41 instances of attacks on both DepEd schools and Lumad community learning centers since 2011. These include military encampment, indiscriminate firing, and harassment of students and their teachers.

Neighboring regions are also experiencing the same problems, said Rius Valle, spokesperson of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center-SMR.

Schools of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Northern Mindanao Region, according to Valle, are victims of vilification as they are also being tagged as “NPA schools.”

Last month, the SOS Network said, some 1,700 Manobos from Andap Valley in Surigao del Sur were forced to evacuate from their homes after a series of intensive military operations in the area. Their Lumad community learning center was burned to the ground while teachers and students were initimidated by soldiers and paramilitary groups.

“Falsehood,” Valle commented on the AFP Mission painted in the gates of Camp Aguinaldo, which read, “protect the people, secure sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.”

“The military serves not the interest of these children, but of big corporations who want to get profits from their land,” he said.

Badet Andales (center) expresses solidarity with Manobo children (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
Badet Andales (center) expresses solidarity with Manobo children (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
Let children be

During the program, Badet Andales, a resident of Tatalon, Quezon City, tearily expressed her solidarity with the Manobo children.

“You are heartless,” she said to the soldiers in Camp Aguinaldo, “Aren’t you parents too?”

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Andales said she could relate to the fear of the children as she, too, as a young child, was terrorized by soldiers who encamped in their community in Hilongos, Leyte. Mere sight of heavily armed soldiers brings back the horrors of soldiers strafing their farm, sending shivers to her spine, she said.

Andales said she was much moved by the plight of the Manobo children and their fight for their right to education as she knows first-hand that the government has failed to provide free and quality education to its people.

“I wanted to study but my parents could no longer afford it. I only finished Grade 6,” she said.

But what pains her more, she added, was that the same thing happened to her two children, because her meager earning from selling newspapers, roughly $2.5 a day, could not support their schooling. She said both were forced to stop after they graduated high school.

“Let the children be,” she urged the military.

Bongcalas, for his part, said he misses going to school. His favorite subjects are Mathematics and Science. He dreams of becoming a teacher of their learning center someday. But for that to materialize, the military would have to leave their community first. ()

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