AFP told: Call it by whatever name, it’s still combat operations vs Lumad schools

“Obviously, the AFP would not admit that it is in Talaingod, Davao del Norte for combat operations. It needs to cover up the abuses it has committed, especially the elements of the 68th IB-PA, against the Lumad schools, the teachers and pupils,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.  

Karapatan said the reply of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on the complaint against its operating units in Talaingod, Davao del Norte is expected. Despite several reported incidents of encampment in and looting of schools, harassment of pupils and teachers, and indiscriminate firing near the school grounds, the AFP said they are in the community to “conduct peace and development activities”. 

“The military and its paramilitary unit, the ALAMARA, particularly targets Lumad schools that were built through the initiative of the indigenous people’s organizations in the locality and were supported by the Church and other advocacy groups here and abroad. The government may be piqued because these schools speak of government incompetence and neglect,” added Palabay. 

On November 6, leaders of the Salugpungan Ta Tanu’ Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. had a dialogue with the 1003rd Brigade to impress on the military the need to pull-out their troops from the community.  But after the dialogue, the military stayed on and even put up a camp in the center of the village in Nasilaban. 

Last month, in October, several incidents of indiscriminate firing committed by elements of the 68th IB were reported. Once, bullets were fired into the goats’ shed, which is within the school ground. The soldiers’ camp was directly across the school. Such incidents resulted in the suspension of classes in Nasilaban community.

In March and April this year, Manobo and peasants from the Pantaron Range were forced to leave their community due to the heavy military presence that resulted in a series of abuses and rights violations.  In Brgy Dagohoy, for example, the military interrogated the nine students and one teacher for two hours whom they met along the road.  

Under the BS Aquino regime, there are 52 documented cases of attacks on schools, with at least 2,722 children victims.  “Though the incidents are rampant in Mindanao, there are also reported cases in the Cordillera region,” said Palabay. 

Since the establishment of STTICLCI in 2007 it has provided free education to Manobo youth through their nine elementary schools and two high schools. “With this success, the STTICLCI has earned the ire of the government and the AFP, branding it as NPA school. Schoolrooms and teaching aids were destroyed and the teachers and pupils subjected to red tagging and interrogation,” said Palabay. 

The STTICLCI, with the Save our Schools Network (SOS), has lodged complaints to the regional office of the Department of Education in Davao City.  Some 13 Lumad students of the Salugpungan are now in Metro Manila for a cultural caravan “Og Iskwela Puron” (To school I wish) to call attention to the on-going military operations in their communities and to gather support for their call for military pull-out so they may continue their studies.