We, members of the Educators’ Forum for Development, are alarmed at Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s order to “bomb Lumad schools”. The administration also staunchly defends the extension of Martial Lawin Mindanao which has further disrupted Lumad schools. The safety of the Lumad schoolchildren will only be secured with the immediate withdrawal of the military from community schools and an end to aerial bombardments in the entire island.
The Lumad of Mindanao have overcome the absence of educational facilities in their communities by setting up hundreds of schools with the help of charitable institutions, devoted educators, and missionaries.. Contrary to the President’s misinformed description that they operate illegally, most of these schools have earned official recognition by the Department of Education, while the rest continue to hurdle towards getting the official stamp.
Through volunteers and licensed teachers, some of whom hail from the country’s premiere universities, Lumad schools teach not only Science, Math, English, Filipino and Social Studies, but Culture and Agriculture. They aim to mold Filipino citizens who are not only knowledgeable but also socially conscious and responsible, and who value their indigenous heritage and harness their agricultural empowerment towards nation building.
The government’s militarism is undermining these initiatives . Even prior to the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, Lumad teachers and students have been victimized by counter-insurgency campaigns. They are vilified, forced to evacuate their communities, and their school authorities and community leaders are extrajudicially killed. Since the declaration of Martial Law, government has closed 20 Lumad schools, while instances of military occupation, killings, threats, harassment and intimidation, destruction of property, indiscriminate firing, filing of trumped-up charges, enforced disappearances, and torture have heightened. Last week, three Lumad school teachers who were among the protesters during Congress’ joint session on the extension of Martial Law were illegally detained.
The government has the responsibility to uphold, protect and promote the right to education, particularly of underserved sectors such as indigenous children. We call on the President to order his troops to vacate and stop aiming their guns and bombs at community schools and premises. Ending the militarization of Lumad communities is an immediate doable step that the Duterte government can take to help indigenous groups in Mindanao reclaim their lives and continue their learning.
We also join calls for an end to martial law in Mindanao that has already displaced and disrupted the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands.
Ninia Dela Cruz
Educators Forum for Development
Educators Forum for Development is a network of educators committed to transformative education.