“If we don’t fight now, when we grow up, we won’t have anything to fight for because it’s already too late.”
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA— In a call to stop the continuous attacks on Lumad schools, the Save Our School Network has appealed for public’s help in defending the ancestral lands of the Lumad children in the bakwit (evacuation) schools.
During the Convener’s Meeting and Report Back of the Save Our School’s Network held at the Commission of Human Rights last week, advocates urged the public to sign the petition to defend the Pantaron mountain range, the home for the Manobo for generations, against the foreign mining companies attempting to force their way in. It is in the Pantaron mountain range where 17 of the Salugpongan schools are located.
“Education is not their real target, but the lands,” said SOS Spokesperson Rius Valle. “They attack the schools because they know that education will be a strong weapon against the Lumad’s resistance against these oppressors.”
According to PASAKA Confederation of Lumad Organizations, at least three mining tenements were approved by the government to extract minerals such as gold, silver, copper, and other minerals, covering around 17,000 hectares in Davao del Norte. These companies include the Penson Mining Corp., Lianju Mining Corp., and the Philippine Meng Di Mining; Development Corp.
Last July, 54 Lumad schools were suspended based on accusations that these schools are teaching children how to rebel against the government.
But four months before the official suspension order was issued, 44 Salugpongan schools have already been forcibly closed and suspended.
According to SOS Network, the series of closure had started in November 2018 when the first Salugpongan school, along with 16 others located in Talaingod, Davao del Norte became targets of military encampment, as well as threats and destruction of school facilities.
Under Martial Law, most of the conflict areas where the Armed Forces of the Philippines troops have been deployed are Lumad communities. From May 2017 until July 2019, the network has already documented 584 cases of attacks ranging from school-related extrajudicial killings to forcible closure.
“Even our teachers are being attacked,” said Chricelyn Embong, one of the students of Bakwit school said. “After they returned home last year, soldiers visited their homes, and were forcing their parents to surrender [to authorities].”
The aerial bombings have affected hundreds of communities and have even forced several tribes to evacuate. Ancestral lands are also continuously being converted into dams, highways, and are also subjected to large scale mining, the network said.
According to SOS Diliman, since the establishment of the Lumad schools, it has become the center of gravity of the indigenous communities.
Sarah Raymundo of SOS Diliman said, “If before, the parents of the Lumad children are being cheated whenever they sell their produce, now they can bring their children with them to calculate the prices.”
Raymundo said that in these schools, children are not just taught about the basic curriculum but also on how they could improve the self-sustainability of their communities by learning new farming techniques and harnessing the rich gifts of nature, without causing damage to the environment.
“The attacks on Lumad are unique, because the progress of their education is an indication that they could and they would protect their rights for their ancestral land even more,” Valle said.
Ever since these attacks, the SOS Network has been helping Lumad students to pursue their education. Through the network, different organizations and institutions have been housing the bakwit school. Through sheer perseverance and strong will of Lumad children to learn, the Lumad Bakwit School was able to do their Moving Up Ceremony last March with about a hundred students.
“They might be able to destroy the structure (of the physical schools) but they can never stop these children from learning,” Valle said, quoting the Lumad schools’ volunteer teachers.
Right to land and life
Despite all the attacks, the indigenous people of Mindanao have decided to pursue the fight and brought their call for their rights to life with the Lumad bakwit schools.
“We beat our gongs and sing our songs of resistance in unity as we take courage from the collective action of the indigenous peoples in the country who have remained fearless and relentless in the struggle for land and life,” the petition read.
The struggle of the Lumad children for their right to learn stems from their intense desire to protect the ancestral lands that have been caring and sustaining them for generations now.
“Let’s not be afraid,” Embong said, “as long as we continue to have support, in the end they will get tired of all their intimidation.”
The network’s plan of action until 2020 centers around reclaiming and opposing the militarization and plunder of the ancestral lands, Pantaron range in particular, and to exact accountability from the various forms of military attack the Lumad have experienced under various government agencies in Mindanao.
They also want to pressure the Department of Education into withdrawing the resolution for the closure of the Salugpongan schools and ask for a permit to operate (PTO) for all the Lumad schools in Mindanao.
“To all the Manobo and lumad people, our resolve must remain unfaltering like the Pantaron,” said Bai Bibyaon of the Sabokahan Unity of Lumad Women, “We must prevail for as long as our oppressors continue to persist and deny us the right to live.”