Members of the UP Diliman Chapter of the Save our Schools (SOS) Network (SOS-UPD) recently visited the Matigsalog Lumad community in Sitio Malungon, San Fernando, Bukidnon in Mindanao through the Ila-ila Lumad (getting-to-know the Lumad) interfaith program of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Sub-Region (RMP-NMR).
The group, composed of UPD faculty, workers, students and researchers, joined other participants from the religious and non-government sectors to learn more about the culture, issues and needs of the Lumad. They observed the Manobo literacy and numeracy schools, or alternative schools in remote areas, and participated in the daily activities of the indigenous families there.
The group held art workshops and story-telling activities for the children, and sharing of insights and solidarity activities with the elders, as part of the learning experience and continuing dialogue with the community.
Another aim of the exposure program is to provide research support for the Lumad. UPD professor Sarah Raymundo and researcher Edge Uyangguren served as the delegation’s coordinators who will facilitate information exchanges through reports, forums and other activities in the near future.
In a Facebook post, Raymundo recounts trekking for 16 hours around mountains, crossing rivers and hills, and sharing wonderful insights with the exposurists and the Lumad. “The Lumad community schools are built by the community members themselves in cooperation with organizations and institutions that have come together to fight for and realize free education especially for poor families in rural areas. These are the same schools that have experienced militarization, harassment, vilification, massacre, and all sorts of technical difficulties from the Department of Education… And now that we understand better and know more about the Lumad, we can only make SOS Diliman work for the interest of free education and peace based on social justice,” Raymundo said.
The UPD Office of the Chancellor supports the program. UPD Chancellor Michael L. Tan chairs the SOS-UPD. In March 2016, Tan visited the Manobo youth and saw for himself the children’s determination to learn even though they were facing enormous challenges, such as the lack of books and school supplies, or the need to flee from military or paramilitary operations in their communities.
In 2015, the UPD community hosted the participants in the Manilakbayan protest caravan during which hundreds of Lumad marched from Mindanao to Manila to highlight their struggles and to hold the government accountable for their plight.
“Balik komunidad, balik eskwela”
In a press conference held at the UPD Quezon Hall in June last year, the SOS network, together with UPD officials, called on the new administration under President Rodrigo Duterte to help bring the Lumad safely back to their communities so that their children can return to school.
According to SOS, “despite threats of military harassment, about 5,100 Lumad learners and their 372 teachers (were) set to start school year 2016-2017 with high hopes and strong determination.” The network reported that about 175 teachers “were sent off to 67 indigenous peoples’ schools of the Salugpongan Community Learning Center and Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI) in Southern Mindanao and other neighboring regions. A number of newly-established schools are also set to start operating all over Mindanao.”
But, continued SOS, “some schools will not be able to resume their operations due to military presence within or near communities. As a result, over 1,000 students will be conducting their classes in makeshift classrooms at the Haran compound in Davao and Tandag Sports Complex in Surigao del Sur. They form part of over 4,000 individuals who have been residing in these evacuation centers since last year.”
UPD Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs Nestor Castro said “education is a right of every Filipino citizen,” and that government should do its part by supporting alternative learning systems suited for the Lumad.
UPD professor Gerry Lanuza, like Tan, also called for the safe return of Lumad to their schools and communities and expressed optimism that Pres. Duterte, who is the first Mindanaoan president and who has close ties with both the Left and the Lumad, will help address their calls by ordering the pull-out of military troops and stopping mining operations in indigenous communities.
SOS is a network of child rights advocates and organizations, such as: Salinlahi, Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), Gabriela, ACT Teachers, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu), Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP). The network was formed in support of the indigenous peoples’ rights to education and self-determination as their schools were militarized or used as outposts by government soldiers in violation of Philippine and international laws. According to SOS, nine out of 10 Lumad children have no access to education. The network also documented 233 cases of children’s rights violations from 2010 to 2015.