By GERRY LEE GORIT
CAGAYAN de Oro City–Instead of threatening to bomb indigenous people-run schools, the government must build more schools for them, a tribal leader said Wednesday.
Reacting to the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte to destroy schools managed by the IPs, Datu Jomorito Goaynon, regional chairperson of the tribal group Kalumbay in Northern Mindanao, said it would be best if the present administration will help these communities in putting up more classrooms and school buildings so that “lumad” (native) children could have access to education.
Duterte made the statement during a press conference following his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday.
The President’s threat, Goaynon said, will put the lives of the IP students and their teachers in danger, aside from the fact that the building of these tribal schools in Northern Mindanao did not come from the coffers of the government but from the people with help of some private organizations, especially the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) who provided teachers and other needs such as books and school materials.
“Dili makatarunganon ang iyang gisulti (What Duterte said was not just). It will only embolden the government agents to commit more violations against the lumad (native) people, especially now that we are under martial law,” he said.
In an official statement, National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has made it clear that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its agents will continue to uphold the human rights and “advance the people’s best interest” as Congress recently approved the extension of martial law until December 31, 2017.
There are about 64 IP schools operating in the region with more than 3,000 students belonging to the various tribal groups in the region.
Most of these schools are found in Bukidnon, home to members of the seven tribes, the province’s original inhabitants, namely, the Higaonon, Talaandig, Bukidnon, Manobo, Matigsalug, Tigwanahon and Umayamnon.
Goaynon said that even before Duterte’s remarks, many of the IP students and their teachers had experienced harassment from state security forces who had accused them of being supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist movement in the country.
In fact, he said, two IP schools in the region—one in Barangay Minalwang, Claveria, Misamis Oriental and another in Barangay White Culaman in Kitaotao, Bukidnon— had already been closed in 2015 after their students, teachers and parents were alleged as NPA sympathizers.
To air their sentiment, RMP teachers, with the help of the Save our School movement, are conducting picket rally at the Department of Education central office in Manila, from July 18 up to the present, urging the agency to stop the harassment of IP students and to ask the government for support.
Goaynon said they also calling on the Duterte administration to allocate funds so more IP schools could be built.
“Instead of destroying our schools, the government should help us build more classrooms in areas that have not schools yet,” he said, adding that there are about 50 tribal communities in the region that have no educational facilities.
He said the IPs are also urging the government to stop martial law and to continue its peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Meanwhile, Carlos Conde, Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) researcher for the Asia Division, said that by calling an attack on schools, “Duterte is directing the military to commit war crimes. International humanitarian law – the laws of war – prohibits attacks on schools and other civilian structures unless they are being used for military purposes. Deliberately attacking civilians, including students and teachers, is also a war crime.”
Conde said IP-run “people’s schools” have long been targets of the military and paramilitary forces, which accused them of being “training grounds””] for the NPA, adding “government security forces in Mindanao have largely escaped accountability for such abuses.”
He said the President should publicly retract his threat of violence against tribal schools before the military acts on them.
Although the country has existing laws and the Department of Education guidelines prohibiting military use of schools, “they are often ignored.”
“Instead of denying Filipino children their right to safe education, Duterte should sign the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental political commitment for the protection of students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack during times of war,” Conde said.
He said 67 countries have now signed the declaration and “it’s clearer than ever that the Philippine should do likewise.”
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