Lumad students seek peace of mind

LAST June 13, regular classes have already resumed. But not all students in the country enjoy the comforts of newly-cleaned and renovated classrooms, like the Manobo students in Davao City who welcomed the new school term in a makeshift classroom with sawali walls.

The students are children of Manobo families who sought shelter at the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City.

In the shelter, they have to endure the noise from passing vehicles and the din of voices of other children in an adjoining room.

Ricky Balilid, a volunteer teacher for the Misfi (Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc.) Learning System for “lumad” in Sitio Muling, Barangay Gupitan in Kapalong town, Davao del Norte said that they cannot go home because soldiers are still there.

“We are still under attack,” said Balilid, who now teaches the children evacuees in Haran.

On June 1, some of the evacuees in Haran left for the village of Talaingod in time for the opening of classes. But reports reaching the evacuation site said the teachers failed to reach the school, alarmed by the presence of militiamen in the community.

Better in village than in shelter

In the far-flung village, however, Balilid noticed that children were performing better in class than they did in the shelter.

“Here, children can’t concentrate,” he said. “They score lower in their exams.”

Education for ‘lumads’

Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon is one of the DepEd-accredited community learning centers for lumad that the lumad themselves, with the help of private groups, set up to bring education to lumad communities rarely reached by government services.

Most of the learning centers have won recognition from DepEd for bringing education to indigenous peoples.

But for over a decade, the schools have become constant targets of harassment and vilification campaign by soldiers who link the schools to communist rebels.

As a matter of fact, Save Our Schools (SOS) Network Mindanao had monitored close to 20 lumad schools that failed to open at the start of the classes last June 13 either because of forced evacuation or the presence of soldiers.

Aside from the Salugpongan alternative school for lumad in Barangay Palma Gil in Talaingod town, classes also failed to start in another Salugpongan school in Barangay Anitapan in Mabini, Compostela Valley.

Lack of peace

Despite staying at the Haran compound which is considered a sanctuary for lumad at the heart of Davao City, Balilid said he still did not feel safe.

“We are constantly under surveillance, just like when we were still in the community,” he said.

Just last year, assailants tried to burn the Haran compound. Fortunately, alert evacuees helped put out the fire before it could spread.

But it did not stop there. The attackers went to another part of the compound and burned a dormitory where medical students were staying.

The lack of peace of mind caused by this disturbance was having an impact on teachers and the learning process.

“They have threatened to kill us, teachers,” said Balilid. “We’re constantly on alert.”

“Maybe they don’t want the lumad to learn, that’s why they’re always here to harass us,” he added.

With this threats, he called on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to listen to the call of lumad.

“Please let the soldiers, and most especially the paramilitary groups, return to the barracks,” Balilid said.

He also ask soldiers to stay out of the community to help them bring peace in the classroom and in the community so people can plant crops.

Balilid, who handles Grades 5 and 6, also appealed to Duterte to support education for the lumad.

“I hope that the new President will allocate a budget for the lumad school and even subsidies for teachers,” he said.

When the lumad evacuees first set foot in Haran, children attended classes in rooms with dirt floors. Support groups helped the lumad build makeshift classrooms.

Balilid, however, said the lumad just wanted to go home where their children could go to school.

“Without the soldiers, the place is conducive to learning,” he said. “There, the children can sit properly.”

“I also have a table there,” Balilid said. (With reports from

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Saturday, 18 January 2020
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