Group urges DepEd to protect Lumad schools

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 November) – A group has urged the Department of Education (Deped) to protect Lumad (indigenous peoples) schools from possible harassments with the collapse of peace talks between government (GRP) and National Democratic Front (NDF).

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Save Our Schools – Network Southern Mindanao spokesperson Meg Monteverde said the group expressed concern that military operations in the hinterlands might escalate after President Rodrigo R. Duterte issued Proclamation No. 360 last November 23 terminating the GRP-NDF peace negotiations.

“We join the Lumad students, teachers and parents in raising concern on the cancellation of talks as this signals the intensifying militarization in our communities and our perpetual displacement,” she said.

Erlinda Pagalan, a Lumad bakwit from Sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon in Lianga, Surigao del Sur shares with a grandchild a small space at the provincial sports complex in Tandag City on 1 October 2015. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

But Eastern Mindanao Command public information officer Maj. Ezra Balagtey maintained it is their duty to ensure the safety of the communities.

“Part of that duty is to protect and support legitimate Lumad schools with or without peace talks,” he said.

Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal also denied that Lumad schools are being targeted by military operations.

“That is not true. Our operations are directed towards the armed groups. The IP schools issue, that is, those operating without DepEd approval and have not passed their standards and requirements, is being dealt with by the concerned agencies and the concerned LGUs (local government units),” he said in a text message to MindaNews Tuesday.

Monteverde said some 2,200 students and teachers were affected by “military occupation and harassment” and 39 lumad schools were forced to shut down since Duterte assumed office last year.

She said they expressed alarm over the vilification of Lumads as sympathizers of the New People’s Army (NPA), armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and wary that the “attacks will be more brazen” after the talks were cancelled again.

“With Duterte’s threat to bomb Lumad schools which is happening, it only shows that Lumads will bear the force of the military operations,” she said.

“We challenge DepEd to put their words into action that they uphold Lumad schools as ‘Zones of Peace’ protecting children, teachers and parents amidst militarization,” she said.

Monteverde added the group called on the DepEd to junk its Memorandum 221, which sets the guidelines on the protection of the children during armed conflict.

She said the memorandum “institutionalizes the presence of soldiers and paramilitary in schools.”

“We still clamor though for the resumption of peace talks to address the deeper issues of the armed conflict, and to work out the agreement on socio-economic reforms that should bring meaningful change for the marginalized sectors including the Lumad and Moro communities,” she said.

Duterte issued EO 360 two days before the resumption of “discreet” peace talks between the GRP and NDF on November 25 to 27 in Oslo, Norway.

The President decided to cancel the talks due to “lack of sincerity and commitment” on the part of the CPP in pursuing “genuine and meaningful peace negotiations as it engaged on acts of violence and hostilities, endangering the lives and properties of innocent people.”

The cancellation came two weeks after an NPA ambushed a police patrol vehicle in Bukidnon killing two persons, including four-month old Walysha Machorao, and wounding six others.

Machorao was with her mother aboard a Toyota Fortuner that was tailing the police vehicle.

In his speech during the Bangsamoro Assembly at the Old Provincial Capitol in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao Monday, Duterte dismissed the idea of forming a coalition government with the communists.

“But for the communists, let me be very clear, ‘one republic, no coalition!’ Government must be the sole authority and we decide it all. We’ll have the election. You’ll have the elected leaders whether you like it or not, you must be represented in Congress,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)