Group says 5,500 Lumad students disenfranchised
MANILA — Amid threats to safety and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and despite her "bakwit school" not being recognized by the Department of Education, Grade 9 Lumad student Irene is striving to continue her studies in Metro Manila.
“Iba-iba po ‘yung nararamdaman ko. Masaya na parang malungkot. Masaya ako dahil makapagpatuloy ako sa aking pag-aaral at marami na naman akong matutunan,” Irene, 14, told ABS-CBN News recently in a written interview.
(I have mixed feelings. I'm happy, but also sad. I'm happy because I'm continuing on with my studies, and I will learn more.)
“Kami na mga estudyanteng bakwit dito sa Metro Manila ay makakapagpatuloy pa sa pag-aaral. Pero ‘yung mga kasamahan kong kabataang Lumad sa Mindanao ay hindi na makapagpatuloy sa pag-aaral dahil patuloy na pinapasara ang aming mga paaralan,” she added.
(We, displaced students, can continue with our studies here in Metro Manila. But our fellow Lumad youth in Mindanao cannot because our schools there are being shut down.)
Irene is among 65 Lumad students still currently trying to learn while in Metro Manila after fleeing their homelands in the south to escape armed clashes there.
With the help of 10 volunteer teachers and two tribal elders, these students belonging to the Manobo, T’boli, Blaan and Mandaya tribes from the provinces of Davao del Norte, Bukidnon, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur, Davao Occidental and Davao de Oro have been striving to continue with their education since 2018 from an environment they did not grow up in.
(For her safety and that of her fellow bakwit, Irene requested not to have here complete name published, as well as their current location.)
“Buo pa rin ang lakas at katatagan para magpatuloy sa laban para sa pagsulong sa karapatan sa edukasyon. Ipagpapatuloy pa rin ang klase sa loob ng Bakwit school habang nasa gitna pa tayo sa pagtugon sa pandemya,” Beverly Gofredo of the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network that is helping the displaced Lumad students told ABS-CBN News.
(The strength and determination remain solid to continue the struggle in pushing for the right for education. Classes will continue in the Bakwit school even in the midst of the pandemic.)
Gofredo said that even if the bakwit school in the Philippine capital is not recognized by DepEd, it continues to operate to assert the Lumads' resistance against the attacks their communities have allegedly suffered.
"Ang bakwit school ay hindi recognized ng DepEd. Ito ay resistance ng mga Lumad sa pang-aatake sa kanilang komunidad. Dahil sa pang-aatake, wala nang natirang mga (Lumad schools) sa Davao region," she said.
In its latest report, the SOS Network said some 5,500 indigenous students elsewhere cannot continue their studies as well because of the pandemic.
“Mas lalong naging malabo ang posibilidad na makapag-aral dahil sa bagong sistema ng pag-aaral (online and blended learning). Walang kuryente, walang gadgets at walang akses sa internet ang karamihan sa mga kabataang Lumad na ito,” Gofredo said.
(The chance for them to study got slimmer because of the new blended learning system. Many of the Lumad youth have no access to electricity, gadgets and internet.)
“Maliban pa sa hindi akma ang mga gagamiting modyuls at iba pang printed materials ng DepEd (sa kanilang blended learning) sa kultura at kalagayan ng mga katutubo,” she added.
(And those are on top of the inappropriate modules and other printed materials of DepED in its blended learning system, as far as the culture and situation of the indigenous peoples are concerned.)
Series of attacks amid lockdown
Even during the pandemic, the Lumad community is not safe from various threats from the government, the SOS Network said.
It said it has tallied a total of 44 incidents, varying from aerial bombings, trumped-up charges, forcible closure of school and evacuation, threats, harassment, and intimidation, in Lumad communities.
The series of incidents happened when the lockdown was imposed in the country due to the pandemic, until May 30. The network has yet to collate the report from June up to the present.
“Ang kahirapang ito ay sumasabay din sa patuloy na panggigipit sa mga mag-aaral, kanilang mga magulang at guro sa pamamagitan ng pagpwersa sa kanila na ma-rekrut sa mga paramilitary groups, pananakot, pagbabanta na maaresto, at iba pang paglabag sa mga karapatang pantao,” Gofredo said.
(Their difficulties are coupled with the continuing pressure on the students, their parents and teachers for them to be part of paramilitary groups, the threats, including of being arrested, and other human rights violations.)
What the government says
Addressing concerns from Lumad communities involving the military, Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, told ABS-CBN news that the "propaganda" of the organization's "enemy" turns “voluntary evacuation" by tribal villagers to “forced evacuation.“
“In several reported instances, the relocation of the villagers were on the proddings of the Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) and some other unscrupulous groups and individuals,” Arevalo told ABS-CBN News in a text message.
“Their 'Taktikang Bakwit' is meant to create the narrative that the AFP causes havoc and disruption of lives in the communities of our indigenous Kababayans,” he added.
Arevalo also said the presence of “communist terrorist groups” in said communities may endanger their safety.
“In all instances that there is AFP presence in the communities, it's either because local leaders asked for protection because the CTG are entering their communities,” Arevalo said.
“Aside from being harassed, murdered, their women raped, the presence of the CTGs tend to endanger the lives of the local residents. Aside from that, the NPA are violating LOAC (Law of Armed Conflict) being non-state actors that enters an unprotected communities,” he added.
The official noted that the military's presence in tribal communities is requested upon the advice of authorities.
“We are in the community upon the people’s request for assistance in various aspects (such as but not limited to livelihood assistance and development support)—in most cases, the deployment is upon the instance of a Municipal or Barangay Resolution,” he said.
Arevalo urged IP communities to document incidents affecting them and assured the military's willingness to coordinate with groups to address their concerns.
“Amidst the claims of that group and if it is well-founded, we urge them to document their charges and file the appropriate cases so that we can investigate those allegations,” the official said.
“We are willing to cooperate with them, and in the interest of justice and fair play, conduct the appropriate proceedings and mete commensurate punishments when warranted,” he added.
He said the military does not tolerate abuses in their ranks and penalties will be given to those who will not abide.
“We do not tolerate abuses in our ranks. We have stiff penalties and steep standards of conduct laid down and enforced by the AFP Leadership—from Generals to Candidate Soldiers— whether in the garrison or in the frontlines. And we are committed to deal impartially on any infractions to these rules and established norms.”
Meanwhile, Maria Lourie Victor of the Department of Education's IP education office said they are monitoring the situation, and recommended to have learning support aides in IP communities.
“Bagamat may pandemya, patuloy po ang paglalakbay natin tungo sa pagkakasundo... Dapat hindi mawala ang IP ed program kahit may pandemya... Bagamat mahabang lakbayin pa po ito at medyo napahirap pa lalo ng pandemya, nakikinig po tayo sa nabanggit ng ating mga ninuno na huwag daw nating talikuran ang kahit na anong hamon. Harapin daw natin ito hangga’t sumisikat pa ang araw,” she said in a forum organized by E-net Philippines.
(Even if there is a pandemic, we continue our journey to understand each other… IP ed program should not be removed amid the pandemic… Although our journey might still be long and even harder amid the pandemic, we listen to our ancestors that we should not be discouraged when problems arise because we can face it as long as the sun shines.)
“Alalahanin po natin na buhay pa po ang ating katutubong sistema ng edukasyon sa pamayanan, at sumabay po tayo sa daloy ng edukasyon na ito dahil may paaralan po o wala, nand’yan po ang katutubong sistema ng edukasyon,” she added.
(We should be reminded that our traditional system of education in communities is still alive, and that we should go along with this new system of education because with or without schools, IP education remains.)
Victor said that schools are guarded by the agency’s declaration of schools as zones of peace, addressing concerns about red-tagging of some IP schools.
She said that whenever they receive such reports, they immediately investigate together with an inter-agency task force.
“Kailangan matibay ang ugnayan ng ating public schools at ng pamayanan. Kailangan mag-usap po talaga dahil iba’t iba ang konteksto ng conflict sa ating bansa,” Victor said.
(There should be strong coordination between public schools and communities. They need to talk because the conflicts in the country have different context.)
“Sa ating curriculum, tinitingnan kung paano magiging bahagi ang pagtatalakay sa mga paaralan ang usaping pangkapayapaan.”
(We are looking at how discussion on the peace talks can be part of the curriculum.)
How does the Lumad Bakwit schools operate now?
Despite the challenges and DepEd's non-recognition, the camaraderie of the students and volunteer teachers kept the Lumad Bakwit school in Metro Manila alive.
Gofredo lamented though that the school's 10 teachers from Mindanao currently cannot be complemented physically by volunteer teachers from Metro Manila as they prohibit outsiders from entering their premises as precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19.
But a one-day online consultation every week will be held between volunteer teachers and the Lumad students, she said.
The same curriculum and health protocols are also being followed in their classes.
"Actually nag-start na kami ng klase at integrated pa rin ang farming at health sa curriculum namin dahil 'yun naman ang 3 components (academic, health and agriculture) ng Lumad schools, na kahit dito sa bakwit school ay dala-dala namin," Gofredo said.
(Actually, we have started the classes. Farming and health are still integrated in the curriculum because those are parts of the components of Lumad schools, which, even here in the bakwit school we brought along.)
"S'yempre makamasa, makabayan at siyentipiko pa rin na curriculum ang tinuturo sa mga bata. Naging mas makabuluhan ito, na kahit sa pagpapasara ng mga paaralang Lumad ay buo pa rin ang pasya ng mga katutubo na matuto kahit walang permit na galing sa Department of Education," she added.
(Of course, the curriculum being taught to the children is still mass-oriented, patriotic and scientific. And this is more meaningful because despite the closure of Lumad schools, the indigenous peoples are totally committed to learning even without a permit from the Department of Education.)
Gofredo said that the inherent threats to the Lumad community, as well as the pandemic, will not silence them and stop them from learning.
"Sa kabila ng ganitong pandarahas, buo ang pasya nila na magpatuloy para sa susunod na salinlahi. Ang mga batang Lumad ay inspirasyon na hindi puwedeng manahimik na lang sa kung ano ang kalagayan ngayon dahil bahagi sila ng lipunan at kailangan silang tulungan na pangalagaan ang kalikasan at ang kanilang kinabukasan," she said.
(Despite these violent attacks, they commit to keep going for their next generation. The Lumad youth are an inspiration; that you just can't keep quiet about the current situation, because they are part of society and they need help in taking care of nature and their future.)
"Hindi lamang sa permit o sa struktura ng mga paaralan nakatali ang pagkatuto ng mga kabataan dahil ang kanilang paglalakbay ay bahagi rin ng kanilang pagkatuto. Dahil nga ang bakwit school ay form ng kanilang patuloy na paggiit at paglaban sa kanilang karapatan sa edukasyon, lupang ninuno at sariling pagpapasiya."
(The education of children does not only rest on a permit or a school building. Their journey is part of their education. Their being in a bakwit school signifies their assertion of their right to education, their ancestral domain, and their self-determination.)
Meanwhile, the SOS Network said food, medicine, toiletries and school supplies from donors are welcome so they could sustain the operation of the bakwit school. It said it may be reached through its Facebook and Twitter pages.
Irene, the Lumad student, said she hopes to become a doctor so she could give back to her community.
To achieve her dream, she prays for peace in her home village so she could continue her studies there.
“Hinding-hindi kami titigil. ipapakita namin sa kanila ang lakas naming mga kabataang Lumad. Ipapakita namin sa kanila na hinding-hindi nila mananakaw sa amin ang pagka-uhaw namin sa edukasyon.”
(We will not stop. We will show them the strength of the Lumad youth. We will show them that they cannot take away our desire for education.)