“They executed an affidavit and yet they are in the custody of the military. So what was the motive behind that?”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Almost two years after the “Lianga massacre” – the rampage by paramilitary men who killed three leaders of Lianga, Surigao del Sur province – Lumad schools and community continue to be harassed.
At least 12 teachers and community leaders of the province have been charged with child trafficking and child abuse, allegedly filed by two students and their mother who accused them of teaching children “to fight government” and be “trained by the New People’s Army.”
Those charged are teachers of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc. (Alcadev) and the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS), and leaders of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu).
Human rights group Karapatan said the trumped-up charges were meant to harass teachers and other key witnesses to the Sept. 1, 2015 massacre in in Sitio (subvillage) Han-ayan, Diatagon village, where paramilitary men belonging to the Magahat-Bagani group routed the whole community, including Alcadev and TRIFPSS teachers and students. The Magahat killed Alcadev school director Emerito Samarca and Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo.
Read: ‘Soldiers watched as paramilitary attacked us’
Bulatlat interviewed Annabelle Campos, the TRIFPSS literacy coordinator and one of the 12 charged who went to the Department of Justice (DOJ) here in Manila to push for the dismissal of the cases.
Campos said these cases were meant to harass them and the leaders of the community who steadfastly fight against mining projects in their resource rich communities.
“This is what the military has been doing since 2005 because we resist the entry of destructive projects like mining,” she told Bulatlat. In spite of the cases, she said they will not waver in providing education, which is what the Lumad community needs, something that they were deprived of before these schools were built.
Read: Under the Gun: School for Tribal Children in Surigao Bears Brunt of Militarization
Karapatan legal counsel Atty. Sol Taule said that in a dialogue on June 2, DOJ Undersecretary Antonio Co had pledged to withdraw the charges.
‘Used by the military’
Campos said the children, Reneboy Tejero, who was then 17, and his brother Saniboy, 14, were both former students of TRIFPSS. They were among those who evacuated to Tandag City after the massacre.
Since 2008, after their father died, the two boys have been abandoned by their mother. They have since been in the custody of their grandmother, Lourdes Bautista, who enrolled them to TRIFPSS. Just days after the massacre, on Sept. 5, 2015, Bautista was surprised when the boys’ mother, Rosalinda, suddenly showed up at the evacuation center to get her sons. She later learned that the boys were put under the custody of the 401st Brigade of the Philippine Army at New Leyte, Awa village, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur. Campos said they found out that Rosalinda had a live-in partner who is a member of paramilitary group Mahagat.
On Dec. 18, 2015, Rosalinda and her sons filed complaints against the teachers and leaders, three months after charges were filed against the perpetrators of Lianga massacre, the paramilitary men of the Magahat-Bagani.
In Reneboy’s affidavit, he alleged that Mapasu leaders taught them to “fight the government.” The brothers also alleged that they were ordered to undergo training by the NPAs in Camarin, which is 700 kilometers away from Alcadev school. They alleged that they were taught how to hold firearms, like M14, AK47, and M203. Reneboy also claimed in his affidavit that he was a student of Alcadev, while Rosalinda claimed that her sons were “kidnapped” in 2010 up to 2015.
But the allegations are not true, said Campos. Although both brothers were students of TRIFPSS, which is an alternative elementary school, Reneboy was never enrolled in Alcadev – an alternative secondary school – because he worked after graduating from TRIFPSS. While studying in TRIFPSS, they went home to their grandmother every day after school, which would prove that they were not kidnapped.
“They executed an affidavit and yet they are in the custody of the military. So what was the motive behind that?” said Campos.
In the Oct. 2015 Senate inquiry on Lianga massacre, the boys sat on the side of the military and spoke out against the teachers and leaders. Campos said they learned that Reneboy had been armed by the military.
Bautista said she is worried sick about her grandchildren. She said she does not believe that Rosalinda is capable of doing such a thing because she could neither read nor write. She also does not believe that her grandchildren wrote the affidavits. She said the military only used her grandsons against TRIFPSS.
“I just want to get them back,” the teary-eyed grandmother told Bulatlat.
Recovering from trauma
Angela Libano, 15, an incoming third year student at Alcadev, also went with the group to Manila to call for the dismissal of the charges. She said because of the martial law imposition in Mindanao, she fears for the teachers and the community. She said she has recovered from the trauma from the massacre, but could not help but be anxious.
“I’m afraid that it will happen again. Even without martial law, that happened; what more under martial law?” she told Bulatlat. She recalled how the Magahat threatened to destroy Alcadev.
Libano was a first year student in 2015. She was right behind Dionel Campos, who was her uncle, when the paramilitary men shot him. It took a week before she recovered, she said, as the images kept ruminating in her mind.
She was able to continue her studies at the evacuation center in Tandag City, and last year, back in Han-ayan, when the people returned home from evacuation on Sep. 3, and started to rebuild the school and community.
Getting back to normal
Campos said everyone in the school and community is still trying to get back to normal. The horrors of that fateful day, Sept. 1, 2015 did not fade away, she said.
“Barking dogs would awaken us at night, and we would anxiously think, the Magahats are back,” she said. News of military operations also terrify them, especially after President Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao. She said the suspension of writ of habeas corpus may be used by the military to conduct warrantless search in Lumad schools and arrest students and teachers.
“Baka lalong gipitin nila iyong mga Lumad schools (They might harass the Lumad schools even more),” she said.
In spite of the grief and trauma in the community, the schools are set to start classes this week.
As proof of recovery, the number of students enrolled in the schools increased. There are more than 200 students enrolled in In Alcadev. The community schools of TRIFPPS also increased, from 21 to 23 in different communities in Surigao Del Sur.
She said since K to 12 is in full swing, more students from the far-flung areas cannot afford to pursue their studies. It would entail transportation expenses to go to school in the city from their mountain communities, Campos said. Add that to the cost of uniform, food and other school needs. “These are not affordable for the Lumad farmer who has no stable income,” she said.
She said Lumad communities have been asking government to build schools, one that is within reach from their houses so that they will not have to travel far. And this is what Alcadev has provided the Lumad youth for many years. Their school projects make use of resources in their surroundings and there is no need to buy.
Read: Alcadev: the school that feeds the minds and communities
Many of the older Lumad generation did not get any schooling, thus urge the younger ones to get an education. “Most of the elders did not finish school. It was very rare that one of the brood will make it to high school,” she said.
It is through the Lumad schools that children can express how they feel and understand why their communities continue to come under attack. “They know their rights and they will fight for it,” Campos said.
After their return to Lianga last year, no soldiers have come to the community. She said when ceasefire between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and National Democratic Front of the Philippines was lifted in February, the soldiers from 75th IB informed the village chairman that they will resume operation in Lianga. But the village head would not allow the soldiers’ entry, insisting that the residents had just arrived and had barely started to rebuild their community. The soldiers acceded.
For now, she said they remain vigilant, as they do not know what the future holds.