Karapatan assails closure of 54 Lumad schools in Mindanao, calls it a violation of the right to self-determination

Human rights group Karapatan assailed the resolution of the Department of Education (DepEd) - Region XI ordering the permanent closure of 54 Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Centers in Davao Region.

“The permanent closure of the said learning centers is a denial of every Filipino child’s right to education. We are enraged by the DepEd’s decision to order the closure of the Salugpongan schools based solely on false accusations made by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon. This unilateral decision that did not consider the testimonies of teachers, administrators and students is an affront to the efforts of indigenous communities to provide education for their children. This government is once again choosing militarism over education, thus outrightly violating the right to self-determination by indigenous communities,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

The DepEd in Davao region earlier denied due process to the Salugpongan schools after it refused to grant a permit to the schools and then suspended it last July, following a complaint filed by Esperon.

“DepEd officials refuse to fully commit themselves to their mandate of providing quality education when they chose to decide on the matter based on the military’s allegations. We strongly condemn the DepEd’s inaction to first look into the matter before the ruling. Its officials failed to visit even one of the Salugpongan schools to investigate if the accusations are true. When you have militarists running the government, the rights and welfare of civilians and entire communities are neglected and sidelined,” she explained, adding that martial law has made it easier for State forces to further perpetrate rights violations. 

The Karapatan official likewise slammed NSA Esperon and the whole gamut of the military machinery, particularly the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for violating the Lumad’s right to education and self-determination: “They have militarized and in effect, displaced indigenous communities. This government has now torn down schools that they did not even give a single cent in building and maintaining. The Salugpongan schools remain as a testament to a communities’ unity and perseverance to advance and actualize their rights. Years of government neglect have led to this unity, and now the Duterte government comes waltzing in with fabricated evidence and perjured testimonies in an attempt to destroy this.”

Palabay reiterated that “indigenous communities have been targeted for their active resistance against anti-people policies and development projects that will ravage ancestral lands. This government wants to maintain a robotic populace who do not think critically. Lumad schools have a specific curriculum that caters to the needs of the communities. The schools have existed for years and have produced leaders and teachers among young students – a generation that has grown up determined to defend their ancestral domain. The closure of said schools do not only violate the Lumad youth’s right to education, but the right to due process and right to self-determination of the communities.”

“We condemn this government’s efforts to silence dissent and coopt populations using civilian agencies. We stand alongside the Lumad in calling for the revocation of the closure order. We likewise call for an end to martial law in Mindanao, alongside counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapanatagan, which has only aggravated violations on people’s civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights,” Palabay concluded.