TAGUM CITY (MindaNews / 03 December) — An official of the Department of Education in Davao del Norte here said no closure order has been issued against the Salugpongan community schools managed by the non-governmental Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Incorporated (MISFI) in the hinterlands of Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Capt. Jerry Lamosao, spokesperson of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division said in a telephone interview on November 29 that “the closure of the Salugpongan school was also administered by DepEd and enforced by the IP (Indigenous Peoples or Lumads) by the IP leaders in the area.”
“We do not issue a closure order. The Division of Davao del Norte has no authority to issue such. If there is, the order should be issued by DepEd Central Office in Manila,” Josephine Fadul, DepEd Davao del Norte schools division superintendent, said in a telephone interview Sunday.
Fadul’s statement came amid claims by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), that the Lumad schools, in the guise of providing education, were “indoctrinating” the Lumad children with communist ideals.
A press release from the 1003rd Infantry Bridgade on November 29 said “tribal leaders of the municipality headed by Datu Guibang Apoga, who earlier defected from the group, already made a resolution declaring that they do not want the said Salugpungan schools in their ancestral domain as the schools served as recruitment centers for the Communist NPA Terrorists.”
“When we spoke with the Lumad, they said they were being taught a different national anthem. They forced 14 minors to that school where they teach something different,” PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde said over the weekend.
“Legitimate IP schools”
Fadul maintained that the Salugpongan community schools are “legitimate IP schools recognized by the DepEd.”
“We recognized the establishment of Salugpongan community schools in these far-flung areas in view of the complementary role pursued by private NGOs to bring education to Lumad children,” she said.
“In fact, it was the DepEd Central Office that issued a permit to operate these schools after they satisfactorily complied with the requirements since the school’s curriculum is intended for IPs (indigenous peoples or Lumads). Their permit was even issued by then DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro,” she said.
Fadul said ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro and Bayan Muna President and former party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo went to her office for a courtesy call on November 28 to inform her of the purpose of the National Solidarity Mission in the hinterlands of Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Bae Pilar Libayao in her affidavit executed at hte Municipal Police Station of Talaingod on November 29 said Ocampo’s group bypassed the authority of the Talaingod Tribal Council, that it “did not ask any permission from my office as the Municipal Tribal Leader of Talaingod and IP Mandatory Representative.”
Elita Landu-ay Manlingkaw, 15, a Grade 7 student of Salugpongan Ta’tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, was asked by a police investigator on November 29 who founded the Lumad school. “Our Lumad parents agreed to build a school because they want us to become educated,” she said in her affidavit.
In her affidavit, Leyan Ambuwat Ebudan, 14, also a Grade 7 student of the same school said their teachers “teach English, Filipino, Science, and Math” which are subjects prescribed by the DepEd.
But Fadul noted that in the past months, enrolment in these Lumad schools had dwindled, attributing to the reported harassments hurled against volunteer teachers and Lumad children.
“We would like to underscore that we are not forcing any parent or children to enroll or to transfer in other schools. We also recognize their constitutional right to choose in what school they want to enroll. Public or private they are free to choose as long as these schools are recognized by the education department,” Fadul stressed.
She also disclosed that Meggie Nolasco, the Lumad school’s executive director, sent her a letter, narrating the attacks, harassments allegedly perpetrated by the military against their teachers and pupils.
“I received her letter and to be fair, I also sent a letter to the military so that they can comment on the issues raised by Nolasco. To this date, I still have to receive the military’s response,” Fadul said.
In a statement, Fr. Joel Tabora, President of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) urged government “to look into the plight of these Lumad / IP schools operating in these remote localities, verify the allegations of the supposed ‘illegal closure’ of the same and removal of pupils from these areas without consent of their parents, and to provide assistance to the affected communities if warranted.”
“Social justice demands that the law provide more to those who have less in life. Our IP sisters and brothers, whose lands have time and again been exploited in the name of progress and development have long been denied what the law has promised,” said Tabora, also President of the Ateneo de Davao University.
“We urge government to heed this call. Education, and the promise of a better life for all, must also include those who thrive in the fringes of society,” he added.
The CEAPstatementalso reiteratedthat schools,”regardless of their organization and affiliation, are Zones of Peace and must be protected from conflict from all sides – be it from the government authorities or any other movements. This must hold true especially for those schools operating in the IP communities, who unwittingly become enmeshed in the conflict that continues to persist to this day.”(Mart Sambalud / MindaNews)