“They are here now because Luistro did nothing when their schools were being shut down by the state and paramilitary forces.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — Alpata Bansil, teacher of Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation (Misfi) school in sitio Kasunugan, Mahanog village, Banganga, Davao Oriental, was enthusiastic in teaching the Lumad students despite having colds.
They held mobile classes in their camp-out in front of Department of Education (DepEd) central office in Pasig City. Lumad children, despite their present condition, were also lively and actively answering Bansil’s questions regarding their lesson, which – on the day Bulatlat.com visited on Nov. 10 – was mathematics.
They started their three-day camp-out on Nov. 9 and ended today, Nov. 11. Aside from protests where children expressed their grievances against attacks on their schools, they held classes.
Eule Rico Bonganay, Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, media liaison said mobile classes are being held even in evacuation centers for Lumad children so as not to disrupt their schooling. He said going to class is an everyday routine for these children, and even in this unusual set up where children are sitting on the cement beside the hi-way, there are still efforts to continue that routine.
The class was also meant to criticize Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro regarding his inaction with the Save Our School’s demand to junk DepEd Memorandum Order No. 221.
“If only he acted on their demand, these children will not be here in the street. They are here now because Luistro did nothing when their schools were being shut down by the state and paramilitary forces,” he told Bulatlat.com.
Also on that day, Supreme Student Government and campus journalists of the Nagpayong High School also integrated with the Lumad children. Teachers from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers also had a chance to meet and teach the Lumad children.
On that day, the front of the DepEd central office was transformed into a classroom. Bansil’s class was mathematics; the Lumad children identified the minuend, subtrahend and sum. They also answered the word problems correctly.
Contrary to the claims of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, educators in tribal schools teach the children the same subjects being taught in public schools.
Threatened by Alamara paramilitary men
A class of older students discussed history, to trace how the people became poor in spite of the country’s rich natural resources.
Jinky Malibato, 15, grade 6 student of Misfi in sitio Muling, Gupitan village, Kapalong Davao del Norte said her favorite subject is Makabayan because in this subject, she got to know more about their roots.
Malibato said their school was shut down by the paramilitary group Alamara. In January this year, their teachers who were headed to school were blocked by the paramilitary.
Ricky Balilid, teacher of Misfi was among the teachers who were blocked by the Alamara. He said they were told that if they insisted on going to the school, “they will be hogtied and will be chopped like animals.”
Dialogues were held between Misfi administrators, the paramilitary groups, state forces and the local government, and they eventually returned to the community and resumed their classes, until the Alamara returned to their community on Feb. 6.
“They (paramilitary) came at about 3:15 p.m., together with some soldiers, to our school. They roamed in the school, toting firearms,” said Balilid.
On Feb. 7, the paramilitary started to encamp in the school.”They even cut down three coconut trees to make their barracks,” Malibato told Bulatlat.com.
Malibato also had a traumatic experience with paramilitary men who accosted her as she headed home to sitio Patil, after running an errand for her mother. The Alamara men stopped to look at the goods she was carrying, and asked if those were for the New People’s Army (NPA). She answered that it was for her siblings, and she continued to walk. Then the men fired their guns twice in the air.
“No one dared to stop the paramilitary at that time. Everybody was scared. The leader of the paramilitary told us that if they summon us, we should stop because they have guns,” said Malibato.
Forced to evacuate
They were forced to evacuate to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines compound in Haran, Davao City. Up to now, their school is still closed.
She belied the claim by those who say that they are only being used by progressive groups. “We want to protect our ancestral land. No one is using us,” she said.
Marvin Hugsalan, 14, a grade six student of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines’ school in San Luis, Agusan del Sur also said the same. He and his family also evacuated early this year in Balit, San Luis, Agusan del Sur also because of massive militarization.
“We were in evacuation centers where children died because they could not bear the cold at night and heat during morning,” he said.
He admitted that he is afraid of the soldiers and paramilitary. “They kill people. Once, when we were in another village, the soldiers onboard a helicopter suddenly strafed the village from the air. We were so afraid then,” he said.
Hugsalan and Malibato dream to be a teacher. “I want to help my fellow Lumad children,” Hugsalan said. “I am just afraid if the attacks don’t stop, I might not achieve that dream,” he added.
Bansil, too, expressed fear after the harassment he experienced as teacher of Misfi. However, he cannot just leave the Lumad children. He said soldiers are always there in their area. Soldiers were also harassing parents into transferring their children to the DepEd school. “They do such things just to close down the school. But children are still coming to our school,” he said.
He said children are very happy that Misfi is in their community because teachers stay. Unlike DepEd teachers who only go to their community three times a week. “With Misfi, at least their classes have regularity,” Bansil said.
“The children would cry if they learned that we are leaving the community, even if we are just going to town to buy supplies. They would say, ‘baka hindi na bumalik si Teacher,’” he said.
“A person with a conscience cannot leave students who are very eager to learn — to be educated,” he added.
The Misfi school in sitio Kasunugan will turn one year next year. They cater to more than 70 students, grades 1 to 3. The community is in the hinterlands and takes 10 hours travel by foot.