Loren seeks probe of lumad schools’ closure as Silliman urges held for Davao refugees

July 30, 2015

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 11:39 a.m.) Senator Loren Legarda urged concerned government agencies Thursday to probe attempts to close down tribal schools in Mindanao as a prominent university called on its community to “send help” of a church in Davao City where hundreds of lumadhave sought refuge from militarization.

While acknowledging the need for government to address the problems of insurgency and terrorism, including the monitoring of groups suspected of links or advocating support for armed groups, Legarda said this should not be at the expense of the rights of indigenous people.

“The protection of IPs is guaranteed under the law. Under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Laws, IPs have the right to special protection and security in periods of armed conflict,” and should not be forced to abandon their lands or relocated to special centers to give way to military operations, Legarda said in a statement.

“The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples must ensure that these rights are observed,” she added.

“Our IPs want to be educated. While terrorism is an issue, every action must be thought of well to minimize the impacts and bring normalcy to the lives of our indigenous peoples,” she added. “If schools had to be closed, there should be alternative programs to ensure that children continue to receive quality education.”

Meanwhile, a statement issued by Ben Malayang III, president of Silliman University, the private institution in Dumaguete City founded by American Protestant missionaries, also called for justice for the lumad a week after the violent July 23 attempt to evict them from the United Church of Christ in the Philippine Haran Misson House in Davao and forcibly return them home.

Malayang said he and “many among us in Silliman” were “saddened” by the incident, which North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco, who chairs the House of Representatives’ committee on indigenous people, described as an attempt to “rescue” the estimated 700  Manobo who she claims are being held at UCCP Haran against their will.

However, when Davao Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte intervened following the violence, in which 15 persons were reported hurt, none of the refugees accepted his offer to escort out those who wanted to go home.

The Manobo from Talaingod, Davao del Norte and San Fernando, Bukidnon have accused the military and a tribal militia, the Alamara, of occupying their villages and even tribal schools set up by religious groups and nongovernmental organizations, and of committing human rights violations against them because of suspicions they support communist rebels.

Recently, education officials in the Davao region recommended the closure of the tribal schools and deploying soldiers as “para-teachers,” a suggestion that has been met by outrage by child and indigenous peoples’ rights advocates.

Authorities have also filed kidnapping and trafficking charges against child rights advocates and religious who have been helping the refugees.

“We are concerned that the well-being of the lumad refugees accommodated in Haran Mission House has been threatened and put at risk,” Malayang said. “We pray for shalom, for peace for all Filipinos, particularly for the lumad refugees.”

He called on “leaders of the government and its agencies, the civil society and church people to listen to the plea of the lumad … and help ensure that they are able to live peacefully in their communities.”

“This means respecting the sanctity of lumad life and culture, their well-being, their right to freedom from strife and security from any threat, and the right to find refuge where they feel secure, and the right to desist from being involved in certain mechanisms of the state,” he stressed.

He also urged an end to the reported forcible recruitment of Manobos into armed groups and for the tribal schools to be allowed to operate.

“Valuing the sacredness of life encompasses respecting the right of a person or a community to refuse to become member of any armed group. To value the sanctity of life further means making the much needed education available to lumad children through their Salugpungan schools,” Malayang said.

“We understand that these are the aspirations of the Talaingod lumad, as human beings: to live a life of peace that is based on justice and righteousness,” he added.

Source: Interaksyon