Gov’t promises P500M for schools in Lumad areas

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 – The government will set aside P500 million for the construction of new schools in far-flung areas to bring educational services closer to Lumad children, according to Allan Capuyan, executive director of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

Capuyan said this in an open forum during the “Tatak ng Pagbabago 2019: The Pre-SONA Forum” held at the SMX Convention Center Davao on Wednesday in response to the question of Datu George Mandahay on government efforts to close schools that are allegedly teaching their students communism.

The announcement came days after the Department of Education-Region 11 suspended 55 schools of Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center for Lumad children in the Davao Region for alleged links to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army.

Mandahay, an Obu-Manuvu from Davao City, is a member of the  Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Council of Elders and Leaders, an organization allied with the government.

The tribal leader claimed that the “legitimate indigenous councils” no longer wanted the Salugpongan, Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and livelihood Development, Inc. (ALCADEV), Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS Inc.) and Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) to operate in their communities.

He alleged that these schools are teaching the lumad children how to assemble firearms and fight the government.

“If you were to ask us, we no longer want them. We need to close the Salugpongan. That’s our question, what can the government do about it?” he said.

Capuyan said that many schools managed by ALCADEV, TRIFPSS, and MISFI had been shut down in Agusan and Surigao provinces on the same grounds and, in some instances, the community leaders themselves with the local government  took the initiative to padlock these institutions.

“Ibang grupo katulad ng ALCADEV, TRIFPSS, and MISFI, lalo na sa Agusan at Surigao ito ay marami ng nasara. Maingat lang po ang ating pamahalaan (Other groups like ALCADEV, TRIFPSS, and MISFI, particularly in Agusan and Surigao provinces, many had been closed. The government is just careful),” he said.

DepEd-Region 11 issued last Friday an order suspending the “permit to operate” of 55 Salugpongan schools across the Davao region catering to Lumad or indigenous peoples.

Dr. Evelyn Fetalvero, Officer-in-charge Regional Director of DepEd Region 11 issued the order based on an instruction of Education Secretary Leonor Briones to suspend schools that are operating only with a permit for their recognition status.

The suspension order was also based on allegations by National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr. that the schools were teaching students to rebel against the government and using children for rallies.

Meggie Nolasco, the school’s executive director, called the suspension order irregular and illegal.

“We are surprised to receive this order as we have been persistent in complying with all the necessary requirements stated in the guidelines for schools for indigenous people and are in constant communication with the DepEd Region 11 Office regarding the release of our permit to operate,” the Salugpongan said in its Facebook page over the weekend.

“We are saddened that the government’s mandate to recognize and uphold the right of the Lumad to education and self-determination is superseded by a militaristic approach that further marginalizes the Lumad.

“Education is an issue that directly concerns the public. We appeal to the public to support the Lumad children and their right to education and to oppose the injustice depriving them of this right,” it added.

DepEd-11 gave Salugpongan until July 22 to answer to the allegations hurled against them.

Capuyan said Education Secretary Leonor Briones and Esperson agreed to work for the construction of new school buildings to replace those that had been closed to accommodate the displaced students. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)