Photos by Pau Villanueva
“Hindi namin hinahangad ang malaking paaralan kagaya nitong Unibersidad ng Santo Tomas. Hindi namin hinahangad ang mga masasarap na pagkain. Ang gusto lang namin ay respetuhin ‘yung mga guro namin, kilalanin kami na ito ‘yung mga karapatan namin,” Grade 10 Lumad student Manilyn Gatangan said as UST welcomed teachers and students of the Lumad ‘bakwit school’ Monday afternoon.
(We do not dream [to get in] a big university such as the University of Santo Tomas. We do not dream of delicious food. All we want is for our teachers to be respected, for our rights to be recognized.)
Gatangan, a student of the Community Technical College of South Eastern Mindanao, joined about 70 other Lumad students, parents, and volunteer teachers as they set up ‘bakwit schools’ here in Metro Manila in hopes that their voices and calls would be heard by more people in the face of martial law in Mindanao.
Yesterday, UST once again welcomed the Lumad to their campus as students and teachers gathered in front of the historic Arch of Centuries with raised fists and with chants against martial law and military attacks on Lumad communities, among others.
“Binubuksan namin ang UST sa inyo upang kahit papaano kami ay makikiisa sa inyong pakikibaka,” Fr. Pablo Tiong OP, UST vice rector for religious affairs, said.
(We are opening up UST to you to be one with you in your struggle.)
The Lumad were also joined by Australian missionary Sr. Patricia Fox, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines national coordinator Sr. Elen Belardo, and Fr. Oliver Castor of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer—who turned over the sanctuary program of the Lumad bakwit school to UST from the Baclaran Redemptorist Church which housed them starting August 31.
“Ang ating panawagan ay mas marami pang taong simbahan ang magbukas ng kanilang mga paaralan, mga kumbento, seminaryo sa pagpapatuloy [sa mga Lumad],” Castor urged.
(We call on church people to open up their schools, convents, seminaries as a place of sanctuary [to the Lumad].)
Intensifying attacks under martial law in Mindanao
UST was one of the schools in Manila that hosted the Lumad during the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya campaign September last year. According to Gatangan, military attacks against the Lumad and their schools have only intensified upon their return to their communities in Mindanao, especially with the Congress voting to extend martial law in region until the end of the year.
“Kaya kaming kabataan na nag-aaral sa mga Lumad school, ipinaglalaban namin ang aming mga karapatan. Itigil na po ‘yung pamamaslang sa aming mga kasamahang estudyante at itigil na po ‘yung gawa-gawang kaso sa aming mga guro, sa mga magulang, kaya sana po samahan niyo kami sa aming pakikibaka,” Gatangan called on UST students.
(We, the youth, are defending our rights. We demand an end to the killings of our fellow students and an end to trumped-up charges against our teachers, parents. We hope for you to join us in our struggle.)
Last September 5, Lumad students commemorated the death of 19-year-old Obello Bay-ao, a Grade 7 student of the Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center, Inc. who was allegedly shot by members of the Citizen’s Armed Forces Geographical Unit and the military-backed militia Alamara in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
According to 2018 data from Save Our Schools Network (SOS) – Mindanao, 57 Lumad schools have been forcibly closed under martial law in Mindanao, affecting more than 2,200 Lumad students.
Aerial bombings and military attacks on Lumad schools and communities have also intensified under the government’s Oplan Kapayapaan counterinsurgency operations after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to bomb the Lumad schools in Mindanao last year, accusing their students, their parents and their teachers of being members of the New People’s Army.
Duterte’s pronouncements have forced the Lumad to evacuate their schools and communities due to threats from military and paramilitary forces.
In a joint statement, the UST Central Student Council and the UST Student Organizations Coordinating Council—which represents all student organizations in the university— denounced martial law in Mindanao and attempts to further extend it, and urged all members of the university to take part in the struggle of the Lumad for education and self-determination.
The struggle for land, education and self-determination
Rius Valle, SOS – Mindanao spokesperson and one of the Lumad school volunteer teachers who have been slapped with charged such as grave coercion, serious illegal detention, public disorder, alarm and scandal, said that all of these are mere tactics for the Lumad to give up their ancestral domains to the plundering of investors from large mining companies.
“Presidente na natin mismo ang nagsabi: ‘Ako na ang mamimili ng investors na papasok sa inyong ancestral lands. Bigyan ko kayo ng bahay, magbakwit kayo, magrelocate kayo, bigyan ko kayo ng trabaho, bigyan ko kayo ng 25,000 na stipend,’ sabi niya noong January 2018 sa isang forum ng mga Lumad, ngunit hindi ito ang gusto ng mga Lumad,” Valle said.
(Our President himself has said: ‘I will be choosing the investors that will enter your ancestral lands. I will give you homes, you will move away, you will relocate, I will give you jobs, I will give you a 25,000-peso stipend’, he said on January 2018 during a forum with the Lumad. But this is not what the Lumad wants.)
Instead, Valle says that what the Lumad actually want is respect for human rights and their rights to education and self-determination.
UST Simbahayan Community Development Office director Mark Anthony Abenir likened the Lumad to refugees who are violently driven away from the lands by companies.
“Maituturing natin ang ating mga kapatid na Lumad bilang mga panloob na migrante at mga refugees dahil sila ay patuloy na marahas na pinapalayas sa kanilang mga lupaing ninuno sa Mindanao upang makamkam ito ng mga tao at mga dambuhalang kumpanya na nais pagkakitaan ang kanilang mga lupain,” Abenir said.
(We can identify our Lumad brothers and sisters as internal migrants and refugees because they are continually harassed and driven away from their ancestral lands so large companies can plunder their land for profit.)
He also pledged that the university would offer the Lumad educational facilities that have been deprived from them during their stay in UST, and that the university would continue to support their struggle. Abenir also urged students to integrate and listen to the stories and struggles of the Lumad in their stay in the UST.
“Sa abot ng ating makakaya, [ilalaan] natin ang ating mga oras upang makinig at makidalamhati sa kanilang kuwentong-buhay, at makapagbigay ng donasiyon,” he said.
(To the best of our abilities, we will devote our time to listen and express solidarity with their life stories, and to give donations as well.)
Gatangan further urged UST students and the youth to take part in the struggle of the Lumad in the face of military threats, saying “Tayong mga kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan. Paano tayo matatawag na pag-asa ng bayan kung hindi tayo kikilos para sa ating bayan?”
(We, the youth, are the hope of the country. How can we be called the hope of the country when we don’t take action for the country’s interest?)
“Kaya hinahamon ko kayo na makiisa at ipaglaban ang ating mga karapatan, ‘di lamang para sa iilan kundi para sa lahat. Isulong ang mapagpalayang edukasyon, karapatan ng lupang ninuno, at sariling pagpapasya,” she said.
(I challenge you to be one with us and to defend our rights, not only for the few but for all. Uphold education that liberates and the right to ancestral land and self-determination.)