Solon hits DepEd over closure order of Salugpongan schools

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 9 Oct) – Bayan Muna partylist Representative Eufemia “Ka Femia” Cullamat condemned the closure order issued by the Department of Education (DepEd)-Davao against the 55 schools operated by the Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. in Davao Region nearly eight months after National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon sought the closure of the schools for their alleged links to the communist movement.

Bayan Muna partylist Representative Eufemia “Ka Femia” Cullamat. Photo from Rep. Cullamat’s Facebook page

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Cullamat, who is also a member of the Manobo tribe of Lianga, Surigao del Sur in Caraga Region, assailed the closure order, saying it was a grave violation of the Lumad children’s right to education.

She said the order affected around 3,500 Lumad students and 30 teachers in different communities.

“If it was only a suspension back in July, DepEd has officially closed the Lumad schools today,” she said.

On Tuesday, DepEd-Davao announced it would close permanently 55 Salugpongan schools after a five-man investigating panel created by the agency found merits on the allegations raised by Esperon, also the vice chair of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

In his letter to Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones on February 11, 2019, Esperon alleged that the 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; and 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.

On Tuesday, DepEd-Davao spokesperson Jenielito Atillo said the findings of the fact-finding team included 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 indigenous people’s 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.

Cullamat maintained that their legitimate struggle was intended to uplift the culture of the Lumad and continue defending their ancestral domain for the benefit of the Lumad children.

“We want justice and peace, and protection for our environment and our unity,” she said.

Cullamat alleged that the government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines wanted to destroy the unity of the Lumad people.

She vowed that the Lumad people would be unfazed by the threats and would continue to defend their ancestral domain, the only possession that they can pass on to the next generation.

“They treat us badly as they want to let projects like mines, dams, loggings, plantations, and several other profit-oriented projects into our communities that are destroying our ancestral domains,” she said.

Save Our Schools Network spokesperson Rius Valle also condemned the recent closure and said the order came as no surprise, downplaying it as malicious, baseless, and partial that is based on the false claims of the military.

He said the closure was “clear betrayal of Lumad’s hope for education.”

“We are enraged over the decision of the DepEd Region 11 to permanently shut down the Lumad community schools based on the malicious and false claims of the military, disregarding the fact that such move is tantamount to the disenfranchisement of thousands of Lumad children to their right to education,” Valle said.

He said the fact-finding team created to look into the allegations against the Salugpongan had no intention to consider the merits of the arguments of the schools.

Valle added that the team had only set foot on Nasilaban, Talaingod but had even failed to visit one of the schools to verify the accusations.

He stressed that they cannot consider the validity of DepEd’s investigation and resolution as the task force failed to lend its ears to the Lumads’ voice and listened only “to the false narratives of the AFP and its paramilitary troops about the Lumad community schools.”

He said DepEd-Davao deprived the schools of due process when it refused to grant Salugpongan’s permit to operate and subsequently suspended the schools last July in response to Esperon’s complaint.

Valle said the refusal of DepEd-Davao to issue permits allowed itself to be used by the military to continue the latter’s “dirty tactic of weaving fabricated stories and to legitimize its attacks against these schools.”

“Furthermore, no less than Education Secretary Leonor Briones on several occasion justified the suspension of Salugpongan by parroting the vilification and recycled accusation that the Salugpongan schools are teaching communist ideology among its students,” he pointed out.

He said the Salugpongan TaTanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc. was established in 2007 to help realize the dreams of the Manobos in Talaingod and other “Lumad communities for a free, quality, and culturally relevant education.”

“One of its primary purposes is to enhance and develop the awareness of the children and youth to make them act and participate in the protection of the ancestral domain so as to develop and maintain bounty of the environment toward ecological preservation,” Valle added.

“It’s really hard to imagine how the officials of the education department get a good sleep when there are Manobo children who are now deprived of access to education. Only the likes of President Rodrigo Duterte, NSA Esperon, Secretary Briones and the elements of the [AFP] would be happy upon hearing such news,” he said.

In a statement issued Monday, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana expressed concern over the continued closure of Lumad schools in the Davao Region.

She said it is part of the government’s responsibility to make sure that the Lumad children are able to properly exercise their right to education.

Citing Republic Act No. 11188, or the Special Protection of Children in Situation of Armed Conflict Law, she said that the children should be protected from all forms of abuse and violence but the protection “should not come at the expense of their other rights, as such the right to education.”

Gana added that any allegations that Lumad schools are being used as tools for recruitment for rebel groups need to go through the proper channels and due process.

“This applies to other kinds of rumors or allegations against these schools for indigenous people. Accusations and malicious misinformation can lead to harassment, disenfranchisement, and needless violence. The methods in which the government addresses security risks should not lead to the creation of new ones, especially because both children and IPs are vulnerable sectors of society,” Gana said.

She called on the DepEd-Davao to re-examine the closures and to seek open dialogue with Lumad communities, adding that solutions to complex problems such as what the closures are trying to address cannot be one-note. “They require study, cooperation, and a proper assessment of a community’s needs and problems,” Gana pointed out. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)