DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 October) – A school named after slain Italian missionary Fausto “Pops” Tentorio for Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) children in Barangay White Kulaman in Kitaotao, Bukidnon was “permanently closed” by village officials Friday, according to a press release from the Army’s 4th Infantry Brigade but the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network in Southern Mindanao condemned the “forced closure and destruction of the gate” that it said was done in the company of soldiers in civilian clothes.
In a press release dated October 23 and e-mailed to the media at 11:23 p.m., the 4th Infantry Brigade in Malaybalay City said “no soldiers were involved in the closure (of the school)” and that barangay chair Felipe Cabugnason along with members of the Barangay Council and residents proceeded to Sitio Dao in Barangay White Kulaman at around 10 a.m. Friday “to implement the closure of the Fr. FaustoTentorio Memorial School,” operated by the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI).
The Army’s press release said barangay officials “permanently closed” the school “because of lack of legal documents such as permit to operate, and as threat to the safety of the people living in their barangay.”
The press release quoted Sunny Ray Amit of the Department of Education as saying the students can be absorbed by the Integrated School in the same barangay.
File photo of the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in Sitio Dao, Barangay White Kulaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon. Photo courtesy of Glades Maglungsod/Bayan-SMR
The Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School had 55 students until last month — mostly from the Pulangiyon and Matigasalog tribes — but only 24 this month as the rest were scared following warnings allegedly from village officials that the school would be demolished “kahit nasa loob ang mga bata” (even if the children are inside), Rius Valle, spokesperson of the SOS Network in Southern Mindanao, said.
Cabugnason, according to the Army’s press release, said it was a “peaceful and successful closure of MISFI school.” The press release, however, did not indicate how the closure was implemented.
MindaNews checked Saturday and Sunday with Capt. Lorenzo Siobal of the Civil Military Operations of the 403rd Infantry Battalion, who issued the press release, how the closure was done, if the school was padlocked or demolished. Siobal sent no reply as of 6 p.m. Sunday.
But SOS Network Southern Mindanao, in a statement dated October 24, strongly condemned the “forced closure and destruction of the gate” of the school.
The statement said teachers and parents reported that “soldiers led by Brgy. Captain Felipe Cabugnason forced villagers at gunpoint to destroy their school to make it appear the school demolition is ‘voluntarily done’ by the villagers.”
According to the SOS statement, at 10 a.m. on Friday, Cabugnason “together with at least three soldiers in civilian clothes, forcibly entered the school grounds and destroyed the school,” that the school building was “partially damaged and was padlocked by Cabugnason.”
Valle said teachers had to suspend classes when the village officials arrived.
Cabugnason, according to the SOS statement, “even confiscated cellular phones and cameras of teachers and students, stopping them from taking photos and videos of the incident.” Cabugnason could not be reached for comment.
File photo of the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in Sitio Dao, Barangay WHite Kulaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon. Photo courtesy of Glades Maglungsod/Bayan-SMR
The SOS Network said Cabugnason had repeatedly attempted to close the school since October 1 “by signing a barangay memorandum forcing the closure of the school based on allegations that the construction of the said school was facilitated by the New People’s Army.” The statement said the Department of Education in Northern Mindanao had presented documents that the Tentorio/MISFI school have complied with the requirements.
“This attack shows the absurdity of the military and the barangay officials in White Kulaman to destroy an institution that serves the children, in gross violation of international accords on the protection of the children’s right to education and protection of schools from military attacks,” the SOS Network said.
It urged the Department of Education and the Department of Interior and Local Government to suspend Cabugnason “for gross violation and abuse of power.” It also asked that the military be pulled out from the area and that the school be reopened so the children can resume schooling.
The SOS statement said Cabugnason ordered the teachers and students who are not residents of White Kulaman to leave the village.
Valle told MindaNews that out of the remaining 24 students, four from Sitio Dao were not allowed by the barangay captain to leave.
The rest of the students — 20 of them including residents from Barangay White Kulaman – and two teachers, evacuated to Arakan in North Cotabato, hiking three hours to reach the parish in Arakan where the office of the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Foundation, is located.
Fr. Tentorio was parish priest of Arakan when he was gunned down on October 17, 2011 in the garage of the parish convent as he was about to board his vehicle to attend the monthly Presbyterium in Kidapawan City. (MindaNews)