Teachers of the Lumad and the poor

Rico Pareja, a volunteer teacher in the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) is currently in Manila to air their grievances over attacks on their school. (Photo by Pher Pasion)
Rico Pareja, a volunteer teacher in the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) is currently in Manila to air their grievances over attacks on their school. (Photo by Pher Pasion/Pinoy Weekly)

“The future of the next generation relies on teachers. That is why even if it’s difficult, I am determined to continue teaching.”

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Juniver Tejano, 34, has been a mobile teacher for three years. Unlike other public school teachers who conduct lessons inside a classroom, Tejano has been teaching outdoors – in a shelter in the middle of a farm, a waiting shed, any available space in villages where he could hold classes.

He walks for hours to reach the far-flung villages of Mainit, Surigao del Norte, and looks for out-of-school youth and adults – his potential students. It is difficult, he said, as he has to convince them, especially adults who spend their day working.

Tejano is a teacher under the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) non-formal education. Through this program, the DepEd reaches out to those who do not have access to a formal school, mostly those in far-flung villages. Mobile teachers like Tejano conduct classes according to the students’ schedule.

Teacher Anna (not her real name), 23 is a volunteer teacher in a newly-established public high school in the hinterlands of Agusan del Sur. She is a licensed teacher and has just started teaching Grade 7 students. Although she is doing the same work as a tenured public school teachers, she makes do with only P4,500 ($96) a month, which she has yet to receive for October.

Anna, may compare herself to a sorority neophyte undergoing initiation. She said being new in the profession, other teachers pass on many tasks to her, which she dutifully accomplishes. “Aside from teaching, I was tasked to choreograph, be an emcee of programs, take care of the school’s building permit, among others,” she said in an interview with Bulatlat.com.

She has also already acquired debts for photocopying materials, such as teacher’s references since there are no books available. “There are many expenses because other than my own needs for teaching. I also have to buy extra pens and pad papers for the students because they do not have those,” she said.

Rico Pareja, 25, is a volunteer teacher in the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev). Unlike Anna and Tejano, Pareja is not a teacher under the DepEd. Alcadev, an alternative school that was built with the help of non-government organizations for the Lumad in the hinterlands of Surigao del Sur.

Pareja, a Manobo, is a product of the alternative school. He studied at the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) school in elementary and finished high school in Alcadev.

After high school, he went to college in Surigao del Sur State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. “I came back to Alcadev to give service to my fellow Lumad,” he said in an interview with Bulatlat.com.

Juniver Tejano. an Alternative Learning  System non-formal education, during the National Congress of Alliance of Concerned Teachers. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)
Juniver Tejano. a teacher of the government’s Alternative Learning System, during the National Congress of Alliance of Concerned Teachers. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)

Pareja said he was about to take the licensure exam for teachers when the massacre of Emerito Samarca, executive director of Alcadev, Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) chairperson Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo happened on Sept. 1. He said he still has plans to take the licensure exam when things have gone back to normal in their area.

Oppressed teachers

Anna said many of her co-teachers, especially those who have been in service for years but still do not have security of tenure, are frightened to air their laments about their condition.

She said they have been shelling out their own money for their teaching needs, even the needs of their students yet the district supervisor deducts her transportation fare from the volunteer teachers’ honorarium. She said that according to her co-teachers, the deduction is worth about P1,000 ($21). But they are afraid to air their complaint because it is the district supervisor that they are complaining about.

“We do not have the right to speak because we are not regular teachers, some are afraid to lose their jobs,” she said.

Anna also said that being a member of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), she was also being tagged as a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Pareja was also tagged as an NPA, like the other teachers of Alcadev, which has been tagged as “an NPA school.”
Being a product of the Alcadev, he said, he disproves the allegations. Like the DepEd schools, Pareja teaches Math, Science, Filipino and English.

The school, he said, also empowers the Lumad to fight discrimination, a given for Lumad who go to public schools in the lowlands. Some stop schooling because they were shamed.

Tejano has been tagged as “a radical” because he was identified as a member of ACT. The harassment came not from the military, but from Deped officials in Surigao del Norte who vilify him due to his affiliation with ACT. “As if there is something wrong with that,” he said.

He said he expects that he will not be spared of military harassment, but just the same, he avoids going to areas during military operations. “When there are soldiers in the area, some members of the community would text me beforehand to avoid any inciedent.

Teaching the deprived

Tejano commends the ALS program, which aims to reach out those in the hinterland areas. He said beneficiaries of the program are the truly marginalized, subsistence peasants who have no time and cannot afford to go to school.

Alcadev is a school that also focus on agriculture under the Technical and Vocational Education subject. The students' vegetable garden (File photo courtesy of Alcadev Inc.)
Alcadev focuses on agriculture under the Technical and Vocational Education subject. The students’ vegetable garden (File photo courtesy of Alcadev Inc.)

“These are people who left school or did not go to school at all, because the nearest public school is kilometres away from where they live,” he told Bulatlat.com in an interview.

He, however, thinks that a lot should be done about the DepEd budget. Tejano said for the past three years, his allowance for supplies and travel were not given in full.

“The DepEd office would say that there is a budget, but why do we get only half of it? Where is the other half?” Sometimes the allowance would be given late. He also lamented that transportation fare going to the areas is expensive since they are traversing mountains.

In Agusan del Sur, Anna said, most of her students are children of those who work in the palm oil plantations. Some of them, she said, are members of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), the Aquino government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program. Even then, she said, most students have no school materials. “Sometimes they go to school without any pen or paper. That is why I have extra pens so that they don’t have to buy and they would not leave the class and go home to get paper.”

Alcadev teachers, for the meantime, have been conducting their classes at an evacuation center in Tandag City, where the communities have sought sanctuary. Pareja said even though they have temporarily left their school, and even if the attacks on their school seem to be endless, he will still continue to teach his fellow Lumad.

“The school is my inspiration. That is where I started to become what I am today. That is why I am very grateful to the school,” said Pareja, who is the youngest, and only college graduate among seven siblings. He said there were no TRIFPSS and Alcadev then to help his older siblings to finish their studies.

Difficult but heart-warming

In spite of all their difficulties, the young teachers never thought of quitting their jobs.

“The future of the next generation relies on teachers. That is why even if it’s difficult, I am determined to continue teaching,” Ana said.

Pareja also aspires that one day, the Lumad community would able to continue their studies and the school will be left in peace. “The government should thank the alternative schools, like TRIFPSS and Alcadev, not target us as enemies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tejano admitted that it is tiring to be an ALS teacher as he has to trek to the upland villages which are inaccessible to vehicles. But the students make it all worthwhile, he said.

“They would tell me, especially the older students, ‘Thank you, teacher. Because of you I learned how to read.’ It is very heart-warming,” Tejano said. ()

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