As the Manilakbayan, the Lumad protest caravan, crossed the waters to Luzon today, students and teachers of another school for indigenous children in Bukidnon fled after a village official padlocked the institution.
“Get out. We don’t want you to be victims,” White Culaman barangay captain Felipe Cabugnason told the teachers after breaching a portion of the wall around the boarding school in Kitaotao town.
His band also confiscated cell phones of students and teachers, taking SIM cards to ensure no documentation of the incident. Some went undetected.
Cabugnason’s move followed a warning from the Kitaotao local government and the Department of Education that he does not have the power to close schools.
Reporters received a text for help mid-morning. Teacher Evelyn Cabangal’s mobile phone was answered by a man claiming to be Juan Canotan, a parent of a student at the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in Sitio Dao.
He confirmed the barangay captain had arrived but said no demolition was happening, pending negotiations.
Later, however, Junance Magbanua, administrative staff of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc (MISFI), which operates the school, said the man on the phone was actually Cabugnason.
Cabugnason, who had earlier threatened to close the school, was in the company of several men carrying crowbars and other heavy tools, Magbanua said.
In a phone interview, Magbanua said she and 20 students, three teachers and another child had no choice but to evacuate Dao, taking the school’s livestock. The trek to Arakan, North Cotabato takes three hours.
(UPDATE: at just past 4 pm, Magbanua said the group had reached the highway and managed to get a ride to Arakan. She added that Cabangal had managed to reclaim her phone.)
When they left, the school was still standing, Magbanua said.
“But I’m afraid they will demolish or burn it down now,” she added.
The school is named for an Italian missionary murdered by paramilitary forces in October 2011. Some of those identified as his killers are reportedly under the protection of a legislator, Nancy Catamco, who ironically heads the committee for indigenous peoples in the House of Representatives.
Magbanua said she responded to a call for help from the school. She arrived around 10 am and saw children crying as men broke down the school fence. Three of men sported haircuts and bearings of soldiers but were in civilian clothes, she added.
It is not the first attack on the village.
Tension gripped White Culaman last month when 200 government troops swooped in to arrest 13 leaders of lumad organizations.
The military accused the Lumad of being communist rebels. But a trial court in Bukidnon threw out the case and ordered all 13 Lumad released.
During that same operation, villagers told a fact-finding mission, soldiers threatened to burn down their school.
(UPDATE) Arakan’s assistant parish priest Fr. Peter Geremia is a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. He has survived several assassination attempts. He called the attack in White Culaman as an insult to the memory of Tentorio and everyone who has helped Mindanao’s indigenous peoples.
Attacks against lumad schools are always accompanied by military claims that these institutions – often the only ones accessible to lumad children – are both training grounds for future guerrillas and logistics hub for communist rebels.
The barangay captain would later write MISFI, ordering it to voluntarily close the school or face demolition.
The Kitaotao local government itself and the Department of Education warned him, saying such action was beyond his authority.
But only this summer, the barangay captain spoke at the school’s moving up ceremony, praising its role in the education of Lumad children. It was after the military arrived that Cabugnason had a change of heart, teachers at the school said earlier.
(UPDATE:) Captain Norman Tagros, 8th IB officer gave this convoluted denial to Davao Today.
Hindi po totoo na yung mga sundalo natin ang nagpasara ng school sa Sitio Dao sa Barangay White Culaman, itong Father Pops Tentorio Memorial School. Ang desisyon ay galing sa community, barangay council. We made the effort naman po na magkaroon ng isang mapayapang closure sa issue, we had a peace dialogue with the barangay councilo pero unfortunately di nakapunta ang taga misfi, sometime in the early part of October.
Very clear ang gusto ng community na ipasara ang school dahil sa posed na danger ng school dahil ginagawa daw itong tinutuluyan ng NPAs ang school. Ang alam namin nakapagpadala rin ng sulat ang barangay council at barangay kap Cabugnason sa DepEd.
Queried about the DepEd saying Cabugnason had no authority to close the school, the military officer said:
Regarding that matter we’re still looking into it. Ang gusto lang natin, yung Bayanihan team natin (AFP teams) nandun para magkaron ng peaceful, para maiwasan ang kaguluhan, para mabigyan ng security ang community, kasi ilang beses na ring inatake ang community ng NPA dahil sa defiance nila, sa pag-aaklas nila.
Daan lang sana tayo sa mapayapang pamamaraan. Yun nga kanina nagdecide na ang mga tao, karapatan naman po nila yun community nila yun. Di totoong dinemolish at walang sundalo na nandun. Antay pa namin ang details about that (sa mga nasirang cyclone wire).. I believe hindi totoong ganun ang nangyari kasi kung ganon na may pananakot siguradong makikialam ang mga sundalo sa pagpapasara ng schools. Sitio Dao is roughly 3 kilometers from the center of Barangay White Culaman, di totoong may pananakot.
The Manilakbayan caravan arrives in Manila Monday to highlight the killings of Lumad defending ancestral lands from the encroachment of mining and plantation firms.
Fifty-six of the 71 indigenous peoples killed under President Benigno Simeon Aquino administration are lumad. Of the 56, a dozen were minors, according to records of the human rights watchdog Karapatan.
More than 40,000 Lumad – half of them children — have been forcibly displaced by joint operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the more than 20 paramilitary groups, some of which are being underwritten by mining companies.
Save Our Schools network has recorded 233 cases of human rights violation against Lumad children.
Nine of ten Lumad children have no access to schooling. And yet the government has ordered the closure of three lumad school networks, affecting more than a thousand students.