Elsewhere schooling: The Lumad bakwit school in the national university*

President Rodrigo Duterte subjected Mindanao, the richest island in the Philippines, under Martial Law in May 2017 on account of the so-called terrorist siege of Marawi. One of the most affected groups in this island are the autonomously built and fully functional Lumad Schools. These schools have been the foci of community empowerment among the Lumad who live in various Mindanao regions. It was the year 2015 (a year before Duterte came to power) when the Lumad struggle for land and life began to catch national and international traction.

Global call to stop Lumad killings

Since 2015, Lumad activist leaders and advocates went on a national caravan in the major Philippine islands and an international tour in Europe and North America to educate allies from all over the world about the impact of extractive industries owned by big capitalists of the global North, as well as the attendant state-sponsored human rights violations on account of the Philippine government’s bias for foreign direct investors and the standard procedure of bureaucrat capitalism that plagues Philippine governance.

While the Lumad have enjoyed the solidarity and support of peace-loving peoples worldwide, they have have yet to find respite from nervous conditions which shape their everyday life in Mindanao. The campaign “Stop Killing Lumad” and “Defend Lumad’s Right to Self-Determination” has been very much alive, and has renewed its relevance in academic discourse. It has, since 2015, been part of syllabi, academic conferences, books, required textbooks, even student projects and research papers.

This global and proactive resistance has earned the ire of a necropolitical State— a mode of elite governance that uses legitimate bureaucratic power to make decisions on who is to live or die. This has resulted in the shocking death toll of Oplan Tokhang (Duterte’s war on drugs) and Oplan Kapanatagan (Duterte’s counterinsurgency program that targets activists).

Effective resistance does not always yield decisive victories but can function as an important factor in the balance of power. Currently, as the Philippines remains hijacked by pro-imperialist and corrupt politicians under the leadership of Duterte, effective resistance—the kind that yields broad support from peoples all over the world— is met with reactions which reinforce the power of the local ruling elite and its imperialist allies. These reactions take the form of actual killing of activists, red tagging and red bashing, and the spread of disinformation and distorted representations of organized resistance from state and non-state agents alike. This shows how organized resistance is only a step toward the peoples’ struggle for self-determination by taking back power from an elite-controlled State.

The University of the Philippines-Diliman (UP), where I work, finds itself in the middle of the dialectical encounter between resistance and right-wing reaction. UP actively supported the 2015 Lumad caravan that initially aimed to call attention to the Lumad killings and militarization of Lumad communities. In 2019, this support acquired a different form when UP agreed to host the Lumad Bakwit School in its premises, transforming spaces in the University as learning centers for Lumad students.

I aim to share the diverse spatial strategies, including concrete institutional interventions, innovations and new forms of pedagogy which resulted in this unprecedented project taken on by the University and its volunteers from the faculty and students.

In particular, I aim to feature the ways in which the standard curriculum is being gradually modified if not transformed into a qualitatively different pedagogical organization based on the right to space, right to education and the Lumad struggle for self-determination.

Spatial strategies

Diverse spatial strategies include physical spaces whose availability depend on alliance building. Alliance building involves preparatory work. We have a built-in structure through Save Our Schools-Diliman, whose main convener is the esteemed UP Diliman Chancellor Dr. Michael Lim Tan. Months before, SOS came out with campaign materials and scheduled talks with possible allies, and in this case, our colleagues who will be willing to host the Lumad Bakwit School in various ways: provision of classrooms, sleeping quarters, assist in everyday needs such as food. The budget for food is P7,000 or US$ 572 a day for 100 people. 75 Lumad students and 15 volunteer teachers from Mindanao. A total of 25 resident teachers and 30 guest lecturers from the University— faculty, students, alumni volunteered to teach at the Lumad Bakwit School.

Institutional intervention as a spatial strategy includes a strong alliance work with Administration, an entity that provides permission for entry and duration of stay, the Chancellor writes Deans of all colleges to contribute to this endeavor. The responses were generous. We got classroom spaces and sleeping quarters available. People chipped in regularly for food and other provisions.

Innovations and new forms of pedagogy

We only had a little bit more than two months to finish a curriculum, and some backlog from last year. I was in charge of Grade 11 students —15 of them from various Lumad Schools in Mindanao. I had to collapse four subjects into a schedule of 50 hours, that is three times a week for two hours. The courses were Composition in English and Filipino (mainly writing based on reading), Social Research, and Statistics. This means that the students will be getting grades in four subjects even if our lectures on the courses were mutually dependent and quite fluid.

The link between Social Research and Statistics is obvious. So we began with a project that they wanted to pursue. They wanted to do research on the Lumad Bakwit School itself. Statistics was then incorporated to the lectures on Social Research. Composition was a little bit challenging as I did not speak Bisaya. But most of them speak Tagalog. So our innovation was to first write drafts of their initial research and reflections in Tagalog. After two drafts, the task was to translate their work from Tagalog into English. We spent two weeks, 12 hours working on the formal side of the task— sentence construction, grammar, etc, both in Filipino and English. It was very challenging as I am not a Language teacher. But their resolve was solid, and their love for reading and writing was inspiring, it only made me a better teacher.

Lumad Bakwit School Diaries (1)

Posted by Sarah Raymundo on Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Their reading assignments include some texts from June Jordan. They particularly liked the speech she made in a high school graduation in Brooklyn in which she was talking about the necessity of Life Studies. Most of the strategies I used were also inspired by June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, which I have encountered in a conference on June Jordan last year at the City University of New York Graduate Center. The book contains experimental exercises on writing that draws mainly from students’ experiences, focusing on challenges and aspirations. The Lumad students delightfully found it very intriguing and enlightening that people in what they have always known as the richest country in the world— nation that wields power on their lives, and they know this fact very well—also nurtures struggling populations and is able to do so through efforts similar to our current endeavor.They were also reading texts by their own leaders from other subjects so it was easy to build an interface between reading and writing for and about themselves in order to reach out to others.

Modification of the standard curriculum

I have learned that an effective departure from the standard curriculum would not be an abrupt departure but one of modification. I’ve had debates with comrades, particularly, Lumad teachers on this matter. My initial view was that of a quick fix. I was being requested by my comrade who used to teach Linguistics in the University but is now a volunteer Lumad teacher in Mindanao to teach the course on Composition in English and make sure that we follow the standard curriculum provided for by the Department of Education. My initial response was one of shock and resistance: “Why? Are we also going to send these Lumad youth abroad so they need to be good English writers and speakers? Is this what the struggle for self-determination looks like to you? I do not think so.”

Eventually, I attended the volunteer Lumad teacher briefing. And of course, we ran into the same debate. But this time, I was a little bit sober and less self-absorbed. I was made to understand that Lumad schools are being attacked, closed down with theirs students and teachers killed. And all because the Philippine State claims that Lumad shcools are training grounds for rebels. In June 2017, President Duterte announced that these schools will be bombed. The Department of Education is one with the project of Whole of Nation Approach, a program which boils down to counterinsurgency. And part of which is building schools in areas where Lumad schools are already in place. Since 2016, teachers in these school are from the military, and is part of their civil-military activities. Community members are obliged to transfer their children to these schools lest they be accused of rebellion.

It was therefore paramount for the Lumad school administrators to maintain their accreditation. Hence, they need to follow the standard curriculum. Lumad students undergo academic evaluation using standard curriculum measures. Thus, working with the standard curriculum is basic for the survival of Lumad schools. It is a claim on legitimacy addressed to a government agency like the Department of Education that cannot claim autonomy from the executive branch of government.

The debate on the standard curriculum speaks directly to the fact that the State is not there to protect its people. Therefore, observing the curriculum, at least its formal characteristics, is not even a step for the Lumad Schools to affirm the existing elite and colonial curriculum but rather, to survive, to save lives, which I now understand as necessary and should be the main focus if our work is to continue.

Some lessons

The Lumad Bakiwt School exposes the inherent failure of liberal democratic institutions to ensure justice for all.

Under the Free mobility of global capital, or the promise of free capital, the resisting Lumad are not able to flow with capital. In fighting for their ancestral domain and pushing back against extractive industries and built-in political infrastructure for these business to exist, the Lumad are displaced, exploited, and as refugees are rendered as surplus labor. The Lumad Bakwit School at UP s also a space to think through how state manipulates rural populations in order to keep wages of farm workers low by creating a whole migrant population as refugees elsewhere. The whole process of displacement becomes a lucrative measure for capital in fulfilling its interest in creating infrastructures for surplus value extraction and surplus labor at the expense of refugees and migrants.

But Elsewhere schooling also means building solidarity. The Lumad Bakwit School at UP is all about that. It demands for rights yet at the same time it is able to think beyond sovereign power. How so? By simply recognizing the grounds on which we relate to each other. I am arriving at this conclusion from a politics of anti-imperialism. And through the Lumad Bakwit School, I have learned that we need to make a claim on the State and expose how foundational liberal discourse has never been for the Lumad or for the majority of this world’s working poor. Having recognized that, making a claim on the State also means starting to build on our own, just as the Lumad have in the late ’90s when they started to build Lumad schools in the different regions in Mindanao. The Lumad and their advocates have been very effective in terms of defending the rights of people to the point that “sovereign right” finds reason to inflict itself in ways that full scale state violence operates against marginalized peoples worldwide. ()

*Versions of this article were presented at the 1) La Guardia Community College- City University of New York in the Meanings of War Seminar; 2) Department of Southeast Asian Studies University of the University California Berkeley; 3) International League of Peoples’ Struggle Assembly 2019 in Hong Kong. The author wishes to recognize the enabling conditions provided for by Dr. Karen Miller, The National Endowment for the Humanities and The Center for Teaching and Learning at La Guardia, Dr. Josephine Leblanc and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.

Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Diliman Center for International Studies. She is engaged in activist work in BAYAN (The New Patriotic Alliance), the International League of Peoples’ Struggles, and Chair of the Philippines-Bolivarian Venezuela Friendship Association. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal for Labor and Society (LANDS) and Interface: Journal of/and for Social Movements.

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