The ‘displaced’ teachers

In the Provincial Capitol Grounds of Malaybalay City, 400 Lumads from four various communities are seeking refuge for around three months now. Reportedly, they fled their villages because of threats, harassment and intimidation by both state military and paramilitary groups.

In one of the two makeshift classrooms made out of tarpaulin, rope, and wood, one can find two volunteer-teachers—Bebialyn, 20, and Beem, 19—from the Literacy-Numeracy (LitNum) schools of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Sub-Region (RMP-NMR) who are temporarily assigned to facilitate the alternative learning spaces in the evacuation center. Previously assigned in the LitNum schools in Agusan del Sur, they, too have become in a way ‘displaced,’ like their students.

Bebialyn handles the Level 1 students, while Beem oversees those in the Level 2. Morning session starts at around 8 and ends by 10. In the afternoon, class will be from 1 to 4 pm. The lessons are based on RMP-NMR’s pre-approved modules (which were written in the Binisaya language) on the Sciences, Mathematics, MAPEH (Music, Arts, Physical Education, and Health), English, Filipino, Civics & Culture, Agriculture, etc; students are designated with grade levels after two-day diagnostic observations which is usually composed of oral recitations, drills, and quizzes.

Both Bebialyn and Beem have at least 40 students each comprising not only of school-age children, but also married adults. “Mas sayon tudloan ang mas tigulang pa sa ako kay dili man badlongon pero dili lang usahay gasulod kay adunay obligasyon na sa pamilya,” (Students who are older than me are easier to teach because they are not hard-headed but sometimes they do not go to class because of familial obligations.), Beem, who has been with LitNum for two years now, said when asked about his experience in teaching older students.

Challenges and aspirations

In San Luis, Agusan del Sur where they come from, students will have already learned basic personal hygiene. The absence of proper sanitation in the area brought about by the lack of access to comfort rooms is primarily the reason for this. As the evacuees also come from different communities within Bukidnon, there is also a degree of difficulty in organizing the people.

“Maisog ko nga mangurog” (I will be brave but at the same time, be afraid), Bebialyn said when asked how does she feel if there will be militarization in the communities where the LitNum schools are located. Although she has been with LitNum for three years, she still has not experienced firsthand any form of harassment from the state forces. Beem would say he feels the same but proceeds to say “Legal man ni atong ginabuhat” (There is nothing wrong with what we are doing). Their fellow volunteer-teachers who had been tenured with LitNum and the people from the community would narrate to her what prompted evacuations in the previous years.

Bombing of schools?

Straight from the horse’s mouth, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte recently said he will bomb the Lumad schools in Mindanao as the latter allegedly serve as training ground for the New People’s Army (NPA). Concerned groups across sectors condemned such remark because of the fear that this rhetoric will inspire military and paramilitary groups to create more attacks.

Such dangerous pronouncements do not come from an ordinary individual. “He happens to be the president of the Philippines. Such statement runs contrary to his previous actions as city mayor of Davao where he advocated the rights of these members of the national minorities,” said Melissa Comiso, head of the LitNum program of RMP-NMR.

According to Save Our Schools (SOS), a network of Lumad children’s rights advocates, the closure of Lumad schools has affected at least 1,000 students across Mindanao. Across the island, there are 222 Lumad schools operated by non-government organizations, serving 8,251 students. These schools are partners of the Department of Education's Indigenous People's Education Program (IPED) that aims to combat illiteracy in the indigenous communities.

“Just because we are building our own schools and chart our self-determined development, the state accuses us of being members of supporters of the NPA,” said Datu Jomorito Goynon, chairperson of the Lumad group Kalumbay. In northern Mindanao and some parts of the Caraga region, community leaders under Kalumbay requested the RMP-NMR to put up schools in their respective remote villages.

‘So that one will not be mocked’

On why should the Lumad go to school, Beem had to say, “Dapat makakat-on aron dunay dugay kahibalo bisan natanggong sa pag-iskwela, aron dili mabinuangan, dili malimbongan, ug dili basta-basta pakaminusan” (One needs to go to school so that one can have more learnings despite the current situation, so that one will not be mocked, scammed, or belittled).

Bebialyn had gone more specific in answering the same question: “Makabalo dapat ug basa, sulat, kwenta, og saktong pamatasan, aron dili mailad sa mga kapitalistang langyaw” (One needs to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and good values so that one will not be swindled by foreign capitalists).

As the interview was about to end, Beem mentioned had he not volunteered for LitNum, he could have been in college now taking a course in Teacher Education. One can think however, that he is already doing what a real teacher does.

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The setting-up of alternative learning classes, including support to teachers, in a conflict-situation is sustained by the Safe and Quality Education Support to Conflict-Affected Children in Mindanao’ project jointly implemented by RMP-NMR, ACCORD, and the International Organization for Migration. The 18-month project that started on April 2016 is funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) through its ‘Children of Peace’ facility.