DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 August) — Teachers of schools run by Lumad organizations renewed their calls for the pullout of military forces and disbandment of the paramilitary group ‘Alamara’ that allegedly caused several human rights violations in their communities.
The calls were made at the hearing of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Human Rights held at Hotel Vicente last Thursday.
But the spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) said the military cannot just pull out its troops in the communities as he explained they are there to protect the villagers, government projects and alleged extortion by the New Peoples Army (NPA).
Ronnie Garcia, principal of Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) in Sitio Dulian, Barangay Palma Gil, Davao Del Norte, complained that military forces allegedly harassed them by putting up military encampments inside their school campuses and by labeling their institution as a “communist school.”
“Our teachers have been victims of military harassments and intimidations. They called our teachers NPA members and that we are communists. We have been through a lot of discrimination,” he said in Cebuano.
He said the first direct military encampment happened in 2011 in their campus in Sitio Dulian, Davao del Norte and had since spread to other campuses until 2014.
Garcia added that even as there has been no case of direct military encampment inside their campus since last year, the red-tagging of their institution and their teachers as members of the NPA has continued until today, forcing some of the parents to stop their children from attending classes.
“They (military) have been telling the parents if they send their children to our school, automatically they become enemies of the state. The children would be discouraged to attend school,” he added.
The same military encampments also happened in other Salugpongan campuses in Purok 4-B, Mangayon Vilage in Compostela Valley, Kilometer 30 in Brgy. Dagohoy, Talaingod, Davao del Norte, he said.
At Sitio Laslasakan, Davao del Norte, he alleged that the military itself asked the community to construct a public school within the school campus of Salugpongan.
“Our teachers also had a traumatic experience because of indiscriminate firing,” he said.
Salugpongan has six campuses in Davao del Norte, three in Davao Oriental, 14 in Compostela Valley, and one in Davao City and 1,800 students in all school campuses.
“Alamara / Cafgu”
In his sworn affidavit, Ricky Balilid, a grade 5 teacher of Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. Academy (Misfi Academy) at Sitio Muling, Brgy. Gupitan, Kapalong in Davao del Norte, narrated that on February 6, 2015, more than 100 members of paramilitary group ‘Alamara,’ who he surmised was the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) headed by a certain Lito Masaloon, arrived in their community at 3:15 p.m. passing through their school campus.
“The teachers of Misfi Academy together with the students, felt anxious since they (Alamara/Cafgu) were carrying high-powered rifles. And since the school is 150 meters away from the community, the teachers decided to suspend the classes and the students were sent home early. The Alamara/Cafgu stayed and rested in their community,” he said.
Balilid said the next day, February 7, some soldiers from 60th Infantry Battalion arrived at around 10 a.m. and encamped within the community. He said the soldiers on February 8 informed them they were there as part of their Peace and Development Outreach Program (PDOP).
Garcia said that on February 9, teachers and students of Misfi Academy were startled when over 10 ‘Alamara/Cafgu’ members arrived in their campus and occupied one of the classrooms for more than two hours.
“They accused the teachers and the school as owned by the NPA. While the classes were ongoing, members of the Alamara/Cafgu roamed around the school and observed classes from outside the windows,” he said. At 2 p.m., same day, they left the school.
Balilid said the soldiers and members of the paramilitary group left the community on February 12.
He added that they fear the presence of the military in their campus as they may be caught in the crossfire between the military and the NPA.
Garcia said they want the military be held liable and accountable for human rights violations they committed while conducting operations in their communities.
He also called on the Department of Education (DepEd) to lift Memorandum Order No. 221, series of 2013, also known as “Guidelines on the Protection of Children during Armed Conflict,” which allows military presence in school campuses.
He said that vilification of their schools and teachers should be stopped. Garcia instead called for support to their cause of educating the Lumad children.
“We are present in communities where there are no public schools. They should not discredit us or vilify our schools,” he said.
Bayan-Muna partylist Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate said the issue is not simply about military encampments because government forces might be protecting companies who are behind the abusive mineral extraction within ancestral lands.
He lambasted the military for seemingly making the Lumads’ access to education difficult. “After the government abandoned its obligation to educate all, including the Lumads, merong mga nagpatayo ng kanilang mga schools, parang sinasabi natin na dapat manatili silang mangmang at manatiling walang alam sa kanilang karapatan” (there are those who set up schools (but) it seems we are saying they should remain ignorant and unaware of hteir rights), he said.
He added it might be that the military is against Lumads’ getting access to education because they have learned to question their operations.
“Marunong na sabihin ng mga Lumad na ‘wag kayong pumasok dito’ sa mga mining companies” (The Lumads already know how to tell the mining companies ‘do not enter here,’” he said.
Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap added that the military might have strengthened their presence in the countryside and labeled the residents NPA members to protect mining firms who might want to abuse their natural resources.
Capt. Alberto Caber, chief of the Public Information Office (PIO) and spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) told MindaNews in a telephone interview Saturday that the military cannot just pull out its troops in the communities, as they are detailed there to protect the villagers, government projects, and alleged extortion by the NPA.
He denied involvement of the military in the operations of mining companies and the creation of so-called paramilitary group ‘Alamara.’
“That is not true. We are doing security patrols because the villagers themselves report to the military units for protection,” he said. He added they risk the lives of their men while conducting operations to give protection.
A directive has also been issued to all military troops not to stay in school campuses, according to him.
He said complainants should report to them cases of human rights violations committed by their soldiers and that they are willing to investigate and punish their troops if proven guilty. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)