Education at gun point

 

[Editor’s note: The story below forms part of the Lumad rights report released by the ‘Higala sa Lumad’ Network. You can download the copy of the report, here. Alternately, please visit this webpage. PHOTO: Matigsalug children enrolled at the RMP-NMR Literacy and Numeracy School in Malungon, Kalagangan, San Fernando, Bukidon. Photo by Pauline Villanueva.]

 

                                       

 

In the evening of August 31, 2015, a paramilitary group, referred to as the Magahat-Bagani, forced residents of Kilometer 16, Brgy. Han-ayan in Lianga, Surigao del Sur to gather at their community center. At roughly four in the morning, community leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo were gunned down in front of the entire community. The paramilitary group, allegedly backed by state forces, has been harassing the community for years, accusing the residents of supporting the New People’s Army. They, with the military, have repeatedly occupied the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), an awarded alternative learning center supported by the community. They allege that the school is a training of the NPA.

After the public execution of their leaders, members of the community who went looking for Emerito Samarca, executive director of ALCADEV, found him lifeless in one of the classrooms, hogtied and with his throat slit. The killings resulted in the longest evacuation of the community. They left their homes right after the killing and to date, they have not been able to safely go home.

The community has, over the years, repeatedly evacuated to the center of Lianga or even to the far city of Tandag because of the persistent threat of the Magahat-Bagani and the military operations. They sought help from the government, demanding the pull-out of military troops from their community, and the disbandment and disarming of the paramilitary group. But despite what became an almost yearly occurrence of evacuation, the government failed to act on their plight.

While in evacuation, the residents are forced to make do with what they are able to raise from support groups, unable to till their farms. Their cultural and spiritual activities are either conducted on cemented grounds instead of their sacred sites, or are not conducted at all. The education of the children is disrupted, sometimes the lessons continued in makeshift classrooms – the teachers and students of ALCADEV always having been part of the evacuating community – or classes are altogether halted.

The ALCADEV, financially supported by the Belgian Non-Government Organization, New World, follows a curriculum built on indigenous knowledge systems. It uses the community’s language, and has a special course on agriculture, the main livelihood of the community. The initiators of the school worked for the establishment of the institution because most of the children from their community were not able to afford to go to the nearest public institutions tens of kilometers away from them. They shaped an educational program that catered to the needs of the community and at the same time equip the children against any factor that might want to erode their culture and traditional systems.