ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro “vehemently condemned” the order of the Department of Education (DepEd) against the Salugpongan Ta ’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc. (Salugpongan) to suspend its 55 Lumad schools in the region.
“These Lumad schools exist because the state could not provide accessible public school education to the Lumad. For decades, they have been deprived of education, health and other social services. These schools are a result of their community’s effort, with the help of volunteer teachers, to establish a school that would provide for the services that the government cannot,” Castro said.
“It is appalling that the Department of Education swiftly issues an order to close these schools without due process and investigation on the basis of a false report made by the military. The same military that has been harassing and threatening Lumad communities,” Castro added.
“The Salugpongan Ta ’Tanu Igkanogon Community Community Learning Center Inc. has been persistent in complying with all the necessary requirements stated in the guidelines for schools for Indigenous People and are in constant communication with the DepEd Region 11 Office regarding the release of their permit to operate. They have been given five days to show cause for the granting of their permit to operate yet the DepEd immediately ordered for their closure.”
The DepEd issued the suspension order on Friday following the allegations of National Security Adviser and Director General of the National Security Council Hermogenes Esperon Jr. against the school. The DepEd also gave the school management five days to refute allegations linking them to the communist rebel movement.
Ma. Eugenia Nolasco, executive director of Salugpongan, asked for a five-day extension, which DepEd Regional Director Evelyn Fetalvero granted yesterday with a July 22, 2019 deadline.
Castro lamented that the DepEd favored the baseless accusations of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF), headed by Esperon, rather than the long request of Salugpongan for a dialogue.
“This administration has relentlessly harassed Lumad students, teachers, parents and volunteers. Children are not spared from the violence of the state. President Duterte has even threatened these communities with bombings also based on the same false reports by the National Task Force.”
“The order to close these schools is denying the Lumad people the right to education. The Duterte administration also continues to impose policies that endanger the lives of Lumad communities especially their children. The military elements forcibly close their schools, arrest their teachers, kill their parents and tag them as members of the NPA as child soldiers,” Castro added.
“As long as there are children, parents and teachers in danger from the attacks of state forces and are denied of their right to access social services, dissent and resistance will persist.”
“We call on the Department of Education to revoke the order to close the 55 Lumad schools. We challenge Secretary Briones and the regional officer-in-charge to integrate with the Lumad and see the situation that they have to face everyday, instead of basing an order on false reports by the military,” Castro ended.
Only 11 of the 55 Lumad schools are in operation prior to the issuance of the DepEd order. School management claimed they were forced to close down other schools due to harassment from the military.
DepEd-11 spokesperson Jenielito Atillo clarifies that the suspension of Salugpongan permit does not confirm they believe the allegations of Esperon.
“The issues raised are really detrimental to the government but we are not saying that we are concluding already that these allegations are true and correct,” Atillo said yesterday.
He said the DepEd considers the allegations of Esperon and the points raised by Melvin Loyod in his affidavit, which is now under study through the office of DepEd Secretary as part of the due process.
Loyod, a former student of the school who eventually became a volunteer teacher in a Salugpongan school in Talaingod Davao del Norte, claimed that the learners were taught with rebellion tactics against the government.
Atillo said schools were not suspended based on few speculations and that they are still in the “process of finding out the truth about this.”
Since 2015, Atillo said DepEd already heard “accusations that allege Salugpongan Ta ’Tanu Igkanogon is working against the constitution.” However, no concrete evidence came out so the school continued to operate.
“Now that this new evidence from Esperon that is well documented against Salugpongan plus the affidavit from Loyod, this is the time it has reached to the Department of Education and responded through Briones who ordered for suspension,” Atillo explained.
Atillo said the suspension of Salugpongan schools has affected more than a thousand learners in Region 11.
Atillo has advised students under these learning centers to transfer in nearby DepEd run-public schools that cater to displaced students with or without their credentials.
On the part of the Salugpongan teachers, Atillo urged them to apply for vacant positions with DepEd, assuring them that their applications will be “properly catered.”
The military’s Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) yesterday expressed its support to the DepEd order.
“We support the directive of the DepEd,” Lt. Col Ezra Balagtey, the spokesperson of EastMinCom, said. “Schools should be teaching the right and proper education.”
Balagtey said the revelations of Loyod proves that the schools teach them “to hate the government,”
Esperon alleged that the Salugpongan tribal school system promotes the communist ideology of the New People’s Army’s (NPA) that espouses the violent overthrow of the government; trains its students to hold mass actions against the government; and uses curriculum not in accordance with the DepEd guidelines.
In his affidavit executed on Dec. 6, 2018, Loyod claimed that Salugpongan learners were taught with rebellion tactics against the government. The military also claimed that the schools are training grounds for NPA recruitment, where students are trained in guerilla warfare.
by Regina Mae Ronquillo and Rhoda Grace B. Saron