Displaced Manobos fear closure of  Lumad school in hinterlands of Surigao del Sur

DIATAGON, Lianga, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews / 07 March) — Displaced Manobo children from Sitios Simowao and Emerald in Barangay Diatagon who are presently seeking refuge in nearby hinterland communities will return to their villages once the tension subsides but their parents fear the school where they learned to read and write will be shut down in favor of a government-run school.

A military-initiated  public school in Sitio Simowao will be built to replace the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) community learning center which Army officials allege to be influenced by the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

Surigao del Sur Governor Alexander Pimentel, chair of the Regional Peace and Order Council talks with military and civilian officials during their ocular inspection at the site of the proposed Indigenous Peoples Education in Sitio Simowao in Barangay Diatagon in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Photo handout from the 3rd Special Forces Battalion.

Classes in  the TRIFPSS school have been disrupted after residents fled their homes, fearing the escalation of hostilities between government troops and communist rebels in the area.

Residents of sitios Simowao and Emerald fled to sitios Kilometer 16, Han-ayan and Kabulohan, about seven kilometers away, on February 28 after an M-203 grenade was fired at one of the houses at Sitio Emerald, wounding a 5-year-old girl and two others on February 21.

Among the evacuees were four teachers and 62 students of Simowao Community Learning Center, a school operated by TRIFPSS in Lianga.

The teachers said they were forced to leave the school for the safety of the children.

Bishop Raul Dael of Tandag City Diocese said he will seek a dialogue with the Department of Education (DepEd) regional officials to appeal to them to allow the continued operation of TRFPPS schools in the Manobo hinterland communities and the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development (Alcadev), a secondary alternative learning school in Sitio Han-ayan.

He expressed apprehension that teaching method of the public tribal school might not be appropriate  to the Manobo culture.

“This may be just a blueprint from the DepEd central office without truly respecting their culture,” Dael said in an interview.

The Diocese’s Bishop Emeritus Nereo Odchimar has also called on the DepEd to allow the continued operation of the schools which have been teaching the children and students a holistic curricula and have produced graduates with high equivalency ratins.

“Why insist on building a new tribal school when there is already TRIFPPS,” Odchimar said.

The 3rd Special Forces Battalion in a press statement said the construction of new public schools in Sitio Simowao and in Sitio Lucnudon in Marihatag  town which will be completed in time for the opening of classes in June was approved by DepEd to replace the TRIFPSS schools which will reportedly be closed for alleged failure to comply with the DepEd requirements and for allegedly operating as an Alternative Learning School without a permit.

An ocular inspection of the proposed school site was held on March 2 attended by  DepEd Caraga Regional Director  Francis Cesar Bringas, Surigao del Sur Gov. Alexander Pimentel, who chairs the Regional Task Force in Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC) Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC)  and Bayugan City Mayor Kirk Asis, Regional Development Council (RDC) Chairman on Social Development.

The 3rd Special Forces d” Battalion and the 544th Engineer Construction Battalion will provide the manpower and equipment once the funds and operational expenses are available.

The school’s  architectural and engineering plan and design options, program of works from the 544th Engineering Battalion and the complied documentary requirements and proposed timeline for implementation were presented by Lieutenant Colonel Joey B Baybayan , 3rd SF Battalion Commander, to the visiting officials. 3SFBn covers the area of Lianga and Marihatag.

Hawudon Jumar S. Bucales, Indigenous Peoples’ Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of at the town council of Lianga, said the Indigenous Peoples Education (IPED) schools will start construction on March 23.

But town councilor Samuel Dollano, who chairs the council’s Education Committee, said the proposed IPED schools pushed by Bucales was not approved by the council.

He said they never supported Bucales’ resolution because they need assessment if the operation of public IPED schools run by the government will be sustained. He cited the government-run IPED school in San Miguel town which holds irregular classes.

The children evacuees from Sitios Simowao and Emerald have continued attending their classes in the function halls of TRIFFPS in Sitios Han-ayan and Kabulohan.(Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)