Army hit for continued attacks vs. Lumad schools, children in Mindanao

LEARNING THE HARD WAY. Manobo children try to continue with their daily chores as students at the evacuation site in Tandag City on Thursday (1 October 2015). Some 3,000 mostly Manobo Lumads fled their homes in Lianga, Surigao del Sur and neighboring areas after the killing of three Lumad leaders in the area on Sept. 1 by alleged paramilitary men. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. Mordeno

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 November) – A network of  Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) schools here slammed the Philippine Army for allegedly encamping inside Lumad schools and prohibiting a team from conducting a medical mission in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

Citing accounts from volunteer teachers, Jong Monzon, lead convener of Save Our Schools (SOS) Network in Davao region, said at least 30 soldiers belonging to the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion have been staying in makeshift tents some 10 meters away from the Salugpungan community school in Sitio Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil in Talaingod town, Davao del Norte since November 17.

He said the soldiers immediately conducted a meeting with community members upon arrival, “under the guise of livelihood programs.”

Monzon called the military’s offer of livelihood programs to the community as a “sham,” noting that there was no discussion at all on livelihood programs.

Maj. Ezra Balagtey, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) denied the SOS’ allegation of military encampment.

“Military troops who are conducting security operations in Nasilaban are observing the proper distance from a school as stipulated in the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) directive,” he said.

Balagtey said they have a military detachment in Sitio Nasilaban, including a Community Support Team based in Sitio Dulyan where a Salugpungan community school is located.

Monzon said Lumad community leaders were coerced to sign a blank piece of paper that he suspects will be attached in a petition letter to seek the closure of the Lumad school.

Nerhaya Talledo, the Salugpungan community school’s basic education head said the military visited Sitio Dulyan and “asked the people to sign a blank sheet of paper for their supposed gardening activity. However, they refused to sign because they are worried that it might be used against them.”

“They are hesitant to sign because they don’t want a repeat of the incident that happened in Sitio Nasilaban where the community was duped to sign a document for the soldiers’ activity but later their signatures were attached in a petition letter to close down the Lumad school in Sitio Nasilaban,” she said, adding “the military’s deceptive tactic successfully shut down the Lumad school in Sitio Nasilaban.”

Balagtey denied allegations that the military coerced and deceived the Lumad leaders and community members in sitios Dulyan and Nasilaban.

“For what reason that 56th IB will resort to such? Will they benefit from it? Let the community speak,” Balagtey said.

“It is our obligation to protect these communities from deception, coercion and intimidation and allow them to practice their socio, cultural, and economic rights freely,” he said.

Also on November 17, soldiers barred the team from the Urban Integrated Health Services Inc. (UIHAI) which was slated to conduct a Medical and Relief Mission in Sitio Igang, Barangay Palma Gil also in Talaingod.

The UIHAI was responding to the call of SOS for immediate medical assistance to the community after several families and Lumad children, including those from Sitio Dulyan, complained of illnesses.

Monzon said soldiers used “suyak,” a sharp metal spike to flatten the tire of the medical team’s vehicle.

“Until now, the 56th IB continues to occupy residents’ domicile threatening and harassing all members of Salugpongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanogon organization,” he said.

The communities in Sitio Igang and Dulyan had been the target of military’s harassments back in July this year which prompted more than 120 Lumad families to abandon their homes. These lumad sought refuge in UCCP Haran after being displaced by military operations, according to Monzon.

Balagtey reiterated on Monday that the soldiers were conducting security operations. “As what I’ve said, they will not resort to (coercion and deception) because it is their duty to prevent anyone to be coerced, intimidated, forced.”

He said the Eastern Mindanao Command “does not tolerate any unit or soldiers violating the rights of any human being, or community in our area of responsibility. While we will be coordinating with other agencies in the conduct of investigation to ferret out the truth in these incidents.”

Balagtey challenged the SOS to “come up with their evidence and file the necessary complaint.” (Mart Sambalud / MindaNews contributor)