Schools under siege

Non-formal schools in far-flung villages are still under attack by military operations.

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MANILA – Schools in the cities may be plagued with lack of classrooms, but in the mountain villages, there are no schools at all.

“Indigenous people living in remote villages in the countryside have to travel for more than an hour to get to school,” said Jacquiline Ruiz, executive director of Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC). That is why some people’s organizations built schools so that children do not have to travel, most times on foot going to school downtown. But in the past years, these non-formal schools continue to come under attack by the military.

“The non-government organizations and the people’s organizations are the ones who are actually doing what the government fails to do: to give necessary services such as these alternative schools in remote areas. Yet these are being subjected to various forms of human rights violations,” said Ruiz at the forum “Education for all: Myth or reality?”

She said they have documented 52 cases of attacks on school perpetrated by the AFP since 2010. These included soldiers setting up camp in the schools.

“We have filed cases with the proper authorities. Some of these cases were filed with the United Nations. We did all means to put these cases to the attention of the president but he did not act on any of it,” Ruiz said.
Schools under attack

Ruiz highlighted the case of three learning centers that are under attack.

The Salugpungan Ta Tatanu Ig Kanogon (Unity in Defense of Ancestral Land) Community Learning Center, Inc. (STTICLCI) in Compostela Valley was built to serve the Lumad children in the area. Recently, soldiers from the 25th Infantry Battalion occupied STTICLCI. The community was forced to evacuate from the mountains of Davao Del Norte to the city proper because of intensified military operations.

The B’laan Literacy School and Learning Center (BLSLC) was established in 2008 in the remote area of Sarangani Province, a project initiated by the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (Clans) in partnership with Association for the Rights of Children in Southeast Asia (Arcsea).

The BLSLC in Upper Suyan, Malapatan, Sarangani gave high hopes to the people of Malapatan as the literacy rate in the six sub-villages of Upper Suyan was at a mere three percent. The said school was also not spared from harassment and intimidation when in 2011, soldiers arrived in their village and interrogated leaders of the community and the teachers. Ruiz said the school stopped its operation for five months because of intense intimidation and harassment.

Alcadev or Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development is the first alternative school for indigenous youth in Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur. It was established in 2004 through the help of the indigenous people’s organizations Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod or the Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation (Mapasu), Kahugpongan sa Lumadnong Organisasyon (Kasalo-Caraga), Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) and Sidlap-Sidlakan.

Alcadev is an alternative learning system especially designed to provide secondary education to indigent indigenous youth – the Manobo, Banwaon, Higanon, Talaandig, and Mamanwa of Surigao del Norte and Sur and Agusan Norte and Sur.

Ruiz said Alcadev is not only a school for literacy and numeracy but also an agricultural school that teaches students how to develop their agricultural land for livelihood. Tuition is free. Dorm is free as well both for the students and staff of Alcadev. In 2005 to 2007 soldiers began to set up camps in the community of Alcadev, which resulted to massive evacuation and disruption of classes.

Ivan Cangton, researcher of the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (Eiler) also shared that two of the six learning centers put up by their institution was subjected to harassments by the AFP.

“In Camarines Norte, the soldiers took all the names of the student-beneficiaries at the learning center and asked questions about our project. Even our program coordinator was followed by elements of the AFP,” Cangton said in an interview with Soldiers did the same thing at their learning center in Agusan del Sur, he added.

Eiler’s project aims to reintegrate child laborers to formal school through the establishment of Bata Balik-Eskwela Learning Centers where child laborers are given review classes and catch-up lessons to facilitate their reintegration to formal school.

“The National Statistics Office and the International Labor Organization said that there are three million child laborers in the Philippines and 900,000 of them have stopped schooling,” Cangton said. The learning centers were established in mining areas and plantations in Camarines Norte, Negros Occidental, CARAGA, Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte and Bukidnon.

Act together

Kharlo Manano, secretary general of Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, meanwhile stressed the importance of collective action of child rights advocates to demand government to access to social services like education.

“Education is the most important social service that the government could provide to the people. The children need our help to make their voices loud and clear. Let us all act together to tell the government to act on the children’s demand, be it in a forum like this or in the streets.”

A network was also formed to intensify the Save our Schools campaign called Save our Schools Network, a network of child rights advocates, organizations and various stakeholders working together for the promotion and protection of children’s rights to education, specially children of the marginalized sector.

“On July 28, Aquino will once again deliver his State of the Nation Address, which is all full of lies. We urge you to come with us, let us gather in the streets and let the whole country know what is the real state of the nation,” said Madella Santiago, Salinlahi chair. (

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