Members of Save Our Schools Network and Lumad schools supporters held a protest rally in front of the Department of Education’s (DepEd) main office in Pasig City on Wednesday, July 17.

The group assailed the suspension of permits to operate for the 55 alternative schools of Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc. (Salugpongan) in the Davao region.

DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones and DepEd Davao Regional officer-in-charge Evelyn Fetalvera released the suspension order, responding to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon’s statements and submitted affidavits that these alternative schools teach children to ‘ideologies against the government’ and bring them to protest rallies.

SOS Network and Salugpongan reiterated that these allegations are false and asserted that the suspension order serves as an attack to the Lumad’s right to education and to the Lumad’s right to self-determination.

The group said the Lumad schools are built and ran by Lumad communities and teaches writing, reading, promoting the Lumad culture and developing their agriculture.

“Sinasabi nila na tinuturuan daw namin maging anti-government ang mga bata. Ang tinuturo daw sa amin ay kung paano magdismantle ng baril. Imbis na magpasalamat ang departamentong ito sapagkat kaming mga lumadnong guro na galing pa sa iba’t ibang komunidad ay pumupunta sa kanayunan upang makapagturo, ano ang ginagawa nila? 111 na teachers ang may mga trumped up charges,” said Rose, a teacher in one of the Lumad schools.

[They say that we teach the children to become anti-government. That we teach them to dismantle guns. Instead of this department being grateful to Lumad teachers who come from different communities who go to the countryside to teach, what do they do? 111 teachers are facing trumped-up charges.]

The protesters slammed the DepEd gates until they forced them open, but they did not force their way into the compound. No DepEd officials came out to face them.

 

SOS Network trooped to DepEd main office to protest Lumad schools’ closure. Photo by Akira Liwanag

 

SOS Network also lamented how Salugpongan was not given due process before the DepEd came out with the suspension order.

On July 14, reacting to the DepEd public announcement of the suspension order, SOS Network in a statement posted on Facebook said, “By giving this order without due process such as informing the Salugpongan officers, and releasing this order to the media, DepEd is not only being unfair to Salugpongan, they are putting the security of all Salugpongan students and teachers at risk by this allegation.”

Salugpongan said that Briones did not even verify Esperon’s claims and the school were not given a chance to defend itself from Esperon’s allegations.

Briones, answering to media interviews, said “Salupongan did not receive permit to operate last year” and added “we cannot close what has not been legally existing.”

The secretary said she has had many dialogues with them and requirements were not complied for any of the schools.

She also said that out of 55 schools, only 11 were applying as other schools have stopped operating due to lack of students.

“Hindi lang nila pinapatay mismo ang mga bata kagaya ni Obello Bay-ao, sa pagpapasara ng aming mga eskuwelahan, ang pangarap ng mga bata ay pinapatay nila. Ang pangarap nilang makabalik sa kanilang community para makapagturo, upang magbigay serbisyo ay pinapatay nila. Bakit? Takot ba silang mabuksan ang pintuan ng kaisipan ng mga bata para sa pagdepensa sa kanilang lupang ninuno?” said Teacher Rose.

[They do not only kill children like Obello Bay-ao, with the closure of our schools, they kill the dreams of the children. They kill the children’s dream to go back to the community to teach, to render service. Why? Are they afraid that the minds of the children will be opened to how they can defend their ancestral lands?]

SOS Network lead convenor Eule Bonganay said the United Nations must step in as the plight of the Lumad fell within the recently-passed resolution of UN Human Rights Council to investigate the human rights situation in the Philippines.

 

SOS Network trooped to DepEd main office to protest Lumad schools’ closure. Photo by Akira Liwanag

Salugpongan said that while the agency responded to the military’s request for order of closure, the “DepEd failed to address the school’s concerns on how the military and paramilitary groups have forcibly closed the schools and even forced the community at gunpoint to destroy some of the school buildings in several villages in Davao Del Norte and Compostela Valley.”

Because of that, the group said only 11 of 55 schools in the Davao region remained to be operating while majority were shut down.

By their count, 80 Lumad schools in Mindanao have been shut down since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016.

Responding to the disenfranchisement of Lumad students, Briones said the government has built schools in areas nearby Lumad communities and the students will be accommodated in those schools.

“The reasons Lumad schools exist in the first place is because these schools are so far. It would take hours for a Lumad child, walking under the scorching sun, and crossing rivers and mountains,” said Bonganay.

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