Lumads occupy South Cotabato highway to demand reopening of schools

Lumads and militant activists occupy a portion of the highway in Koronadal City hours before the SONA on Monday (July 23, 2018) to decry the closure of lumad schools. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/23 July) – Over a hundred indigenous peoples (Lumads) and militant activists occupied a portion of the national highway here hours before President Rodrigo Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address on Monday to decry the closure of Lumad schools in Region 12.

The protesters, who also called for the lifting of martial law in Mindanao, occupied at least two lanes of the road before noontime, disrupting traffic for vehicles travelling to and from General Santos City.

John Timothy Romero, spokesperson of the Center for Lumad Advocacy, Networking and Services, Inc. (CLANS), said that 33 formal and non-formal schools in Lumad communities were closed since 2017 across the region due to lack of permits to operate.

Romero said they have applied for permits to operate since 2014 but until now the Department of Education (DepEd) has yet to grant the licenses for the schools operating in the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani.

The Lumads have been camping at the DepEd Region 12 office for 21 days on Monday, July 23, and vowed not to return home unless the permits to operate for their schools will be granted.

“We are fighting for our children’s humanitarian access to education,” he said in an interview.

Around 4,600 elementary and high school Lumad students have been affected by the closure of the schools since last year, Romero said.

Among the closed Lumad schools are those operated by the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. in Barangay Ned in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato and by the CLANS in Barangay Hinalaan in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat, he added.

He noted that attacks and harassment against Lumad schools and communities in the region by the military worsened after President Rodrigo Duterte a year ago threatened to bomb Lumad schools for allegedly spreading communist ideology.

The 27th and 73rd Infantry Battalions, based in South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces, respectively, said the Lumad schools were closed for allegedly teaching their students to become subversives.

Among those required by the agency was the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Romero said.

Antonio Maganto, DepEd-12 information officer, declined to comment pending clearance from superiors.

Romero said the CADT requirement is difficult to obtain because of the many processes needed.

The Save our Schools Network, a network of child-focused non-government organizations and church-based groups, said there are 225 documented cases of attacks on schools since last year across the country allegedly by the military, including threats, harassment and intimidation. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)