Students in Lumad schools struggle to regain access to education as the new school year started amid the worsening militarization in Mindanao, Save our Schools Network (SOS) said.

In a press conference today in Vinzons Hall, community leaders, together with the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman community, condemned the attacks on Lumad schools and called for the pullout of military troops in the region.

Lumad leaders Benito Bay-ao and Kerlan Fanagel attended the event, together with UP College of Education Dean Therese Bustos, UP Art Studies Professor Clod Yambao, UP guidance counselor Rollie Delos Reyes, and Rev. Didi Jumawan.

The conference expressed concern over the lack of importance placed on Lumad schools as a national issue.

“Ang panawagan siguro ay pag-igtingin lalo yung kaalaman natin dito sa Maynila, sa Luzon, at sa Visayas, dahil hindi nakakarating dito ang totoong nangyayari sa kanila,” Yambao said.

The opening of classes in Lumad schools this week saw heavy military presence as teachers and students reported flying drones, particularly in communities near the Salugpongan Ta-Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) in Davao del Norte.

Last Wednesday, STTICLC also reported 40 elements of the 56th Infantry Battalion arriving in their area, camping in the center and inhabiting the classrooms.

Article X, Section 22 of the Special Protection for Children Act (Republic Act 7610) states that public infrastructure such as schools shall not be utilized for military purposes. However, SOS reported 30 cases of military encampment in schools, all of which brought intimidation to students and teachers.

The military has also forcibly closed 56 schools, affecting 2,209 students who lost access to education. 33 of these schools were in Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani alone, according to SOS spokesperson Rius Valle.

The network also recorded nine school-related killings as of April 2018. Obillo Bay-ao, a Grade 6 student of STTICLC was shot and killed by alleged paramilitary forces last September 2017.

Teachers also reported incidents of harassment and red-tagging by military troops and local officials. As of April 2018, SOS recorded 2,460 cases of false and forced surrender involving students and teachers.

On World Teachers’ Day last year, Aubrey Masalon, a teacher of the CLANS (Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services) Lumad Community School, was illegally arrested by the Army’s 73trd Infantry Battalion in Malapatan, Sarangani.

Jocelyn Samora, a volunteer teacher of MISFI (Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc.) in Agusan del Sur, also reported soldiers forcing her to surrender as a ?supporter of ?the ?New People’s Army last March. She said she was forced to admit such claims to clear her name.

In addition to the worsening militarization in the region, SOS also urged the Department of Education to immediately release permits for 14 Lumad schools operating in Soccsksargen.

The schools, operated by CLANS Lumad Community School and MISFI Academy, have already submitted and complied with requirements to the regional office of DepEd XII.

CLANS operate six formal schools in four provinces in Region 12, while MISFI Academy has eight schools. All of these schools have been in operation for several years.

“(DepEd) must stop looking at paperworks and requirements, but rather they need to fulfill their responsibility of recognizing and also defending the schools that carry out their responsibility to educate the Lumads,” Valle said.

In the press conference, Yambao commended the persistence of volunteer teachers in the community schools despite the problems.

“Sa kabila ng pinagdadaanan nila ay pinipili nilang pasikhayin ang paaralan ng mga Lumad na kung saan, sa 150 estudyante na mga nandun, ay may dalawa o tatlong quality teachers lang na nagtuturo sa kanila,” he said.

Jumawan called on the government to take action and protect these community schools.

“I call upon you, President Digong, to save our schools and not to help those big corporations and those other people whom you identify with. You still have a chance to do something good for the Philippines,” he said.

The Lumad leaders vowed to strengthen the campaign for the protection of the community schools despite the worsening attacks from military forces.

“Kahit patuloy yung attacks at puwersahang pagsasara ng militar ng mga school, patuloy pa rin tayong magtatayo ng mga eskwelahan,” Fanagel said.

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