DepEd-Davao orders permanent closure of Salugpongan schools

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 8 Oct) – The Department of Education (DepEd)-Davao has permanently closed the 55 schools operated by the Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. in different parts of Davao Region, a move that stemmed from a complaint filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon linking the Lumad schools to communists.

As early as 2015, there were already threats to close Salugpongan’s schools. Its leaders show their permits to operate granted by DepEd. MindaNews file photo by TOTO LOZANO

DepEd spokesperson Jenielito Atillo told a press conference on Tuesday that Maria Eugenia M. Nolasco, executive director of the Salugpongan, formally received on Monday afternoon the notice of resolution of DepEd-Davao dated September 20.

“From then on, Salugpongan is no longer allowed to operate in Region 11. Any child who is currently with Salugpongan—the operations of these schools are already canceled and mandated closed since [Monday], officially they are no longer allowed to operate here in Region 11,” he said.

The resolution read in part: “It is with regret to inform you that all schools under the Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanonon Community Learning Center, Inc. are hereby ordered closed. Conformably thereto, it is requested that all student records shall be turned over to the DepEd Schools Division Office for property custody.”

The agency came out with a resolution more than two weeks after a fact-finding team, created by the DepEd-Davao to look into the allegations of Esperon and the response of the school administration, recommended the closure of the “private schools owned and operated by Salugpongan.”

DepEd-Davao director Evelyn R. Fetalvero issued suspension order against Salugpongan schools last July 10.

Atillo said among the grounds upon which the DepEd-Davao had based its findings included the alleged non-compliance of the schools with the curriculum standards set by DepEd-Davao; taking the Lumad students away from their home without the consent of their parents and used them to generate funds by making them perform the plight of the Lumad, in violation of the DepEd’s child protection policy; teachers of Salugpongan are not passers of the Licensure Exam for Teachers; Salugpongan has been operating within the ancestral domain of the IP community without obtaining the mandatory free and prior informed consent of the concerned IP communities and certification precondition from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples; some students of Salugpongan do not have Learners Reference Number, in violation of the requirement under DepEd Order No. 26 s. series 2015; and Salugpongan has misrepresented its enrolment data in that the data contained in the documents it submitted do not match with the data found in the Learners Information System.

Esperon, who is also the vice chair of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, wrote to Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones on February 11, 2019 seeking the closure of the Salugpongan schools.

Among the grounds Esperon raised: students were used by the schools in rallies and were taught with different ideologies from what the government advocates; students do not possess any record or Learner Reference Number, which means the students cannot transfer to other schools or that they will start from the beginning; some students were taught to dismantle and assemble firearms; some students were not allowed to go home to their parents and were controlled by the administrators and teachers; and Salugpongan advocates violence which is inimical to national security.

Salugpongan earlier said that the closure of their schools was “a militaristic approach that further marginalizes the Lumad.”

“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 Learning Center said in its Facebook page.

Atillo added that the Salugpongan could still make a direct appeal to Secretary Briones to reconsider the decision of the DepEd-Davao regional office.

He assured that the Lumad students at the Salugpongan would not be affected by the order.

Atillo noted that of the 1,142 students learners of the Salugpongan, about 1,000 of them have been catered by nearby DepEd schools—20 of them located in Compostela Valley, 56 in Davao City, 48 in Davao del Norte, 30 in Davao Oriental, 11 in Mati City, and 28 in Davao Occidental.

“The remaining 142, we surmised that these are the learners who are with them in ‘bakwit’ schools in Haran in Davao City, which we do not recognize,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)