Lumad Children : War targets  in PH’s last frontiers


Part I: Killing for Peace

The lad thought he had found peace. Bandam Dumanglay was making up for sleepless nights.

Nightmares had stalked his rest since August 9 last year, a  day that started with daydreams of wild catch and fishing with uncles and cousins. Then armed men accosted him in the woods and conscripted him to relay their grim message to residents of Mintake-I, Brgy Lydia, La Paz, Agusan del Sur.

The men were bagani, called “Lubog” in their Manobo community. Bandam knew them. Their leader, Ugjab Laygayan, said villagers had until 2 p.m. to vacate their homes – or face a massacre. Choppers would come with machine-gunners to finish off anyone who managed to scamper away from their guns, he warned.

Everyone must leave, Laygayan commanded; women and children included, and even the teachers of the RMP (Rural Missionaries of the Philippines) Literacy-Numeracy School.

Bandam’s reverie turned into a sprint to warn kin and neighbors. Within a few hours, they were diving and scrambling through the bush to evade warning fire. Bandam’s holiday became an overnight trek to the safer grounds of Libon village.

At the refugee center and for months after returning to Mintake, where the sight of torched homes greeted the Lumad, Bandam displayed signs of trauma – episodes of lethargy and despondent silence, alternating with a hair-trigger temper.

Agusan, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Surigao del Sur -- "bakwit" (evacuation) has become a way of life for indigenous children in the last communities still holding out against the entry of mining firms and plantations on ancestral lands. (all photos courtesy of Kilab Multimedia)
Agusan, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Surigao del Sur — “bakwit” (evacuation) has become a way of life for indigenous children in the last communities still holding out against the entry of mining firms and plantations on ancestral lands. (all photos courtesy of Kilab Multimedia)

The lad was relieved when his elders decided to relocate to Han-ayan, Brgy Diatogon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. They had relatives and kin there.

At the refugee center and for months after returning to Mintake, where the sight of torched homes greeted the Lumad, Bandam displayed signs of trauma – episodes of lethargy and despondent silence, alternating with a hair-trigger temper.

The lad was relieved when his elders decided to relocate to Han-ayan, Brgy Diatogon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. They had relatives and kin there.

alcadev lust

Reclaiming sleep

In the sprawling farms of Alcadev, Bandam healed and grew strong from daily faming activities and running across fields playing a rough version of soccer.

Talks with the school’s executive director, Emerito Samarca, calmed his troubled mind. His parents allowed Bandam, who loved cultural activities, to join other children boarders from more distant areas. After months of fatigue, he reclaimed sleep.

“He sleeps so deeply; it takes plenty of gentle shaking to wake up Bandam,” says Save Our Schools (SOS) Caraga coordinator, Lilian Laurezo.

Some nights, the boy needed “quiet time,” and would ask permission to sleep on a loft in a shed where they sheltered some animals.

That was were Bandam was in the early hours of September 1 this year when men from the “Magahat”, roused Alcadev teachers and students and forcibly marched them to the center of Han-ayan village. The group is the the military-backed paramilitary force in Surigao del Sur’s Andap Valley.

Bandam slept through the commotion. Then a gunshot startled him from sleep. He heard voices of men. He heard trampling feet. His heart thumped with fear. He wanted to check on his peers but heard the mean heading towards his direction.

Bandam knew discovery could cost him his life. That had happened in their old village whenever armed strangers came, sometimes in the company of government soldiers. He stayed put, huddled in a corner under the shed’s eaves. He wondered at the silence. He pondered how time to wait before leaving his shelter.

Then gunshots, many gunshots filled the night. The firing came from the direction of Han-ayan, where his family lived, where some of his classmates lived. Bandam’s dread mounted because no voices could be heard in the school grounds. From experience, he knew that kind of silence meant grave danger – or great tragedy.

Nightmare

He cannot remember how long he waited, his young mind conjuring all kinds of dire scenarios.

Bandam rushed out of the shed the moment he heard the familiar voices of friends and mentors. He saw white faces, tearful eyes.

“Si Tay Emok! Si Tay Emok!”

Bandom joined the rush to Alcadev’s main landmark, an airy, wooden building that housed the offices and the room of Samarca.

EmokThe children and young teachers found their Tay Emok sprawled on the floor, a pool of blood around him. They found the wound from the gunshot that disturbed Bandam’s sleep. They also found his throat slit from one side to another.

Now Bandam stays awake until late night again. More than a month since the murder of Samarca, and the public executions of Lumad leader Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo, Bandam and a hundred other students from Alcadev, and the 50 younger ones at the TRIFPS elementary school, still ask in anguish if they could have done something to save the men’s lives.

“It is survivors’ guilt,” says Gideon Galicia, a young volunteer teacher. He knows what he speaks of. Gideon wonders, sometimes tearfully, if he should have grappled with the men who held Samarca back as they were ordered to leave Alcadev’s premises. He had rushed from the male dormitory to the main building to protect the older man.

“To fight back at that point would have meant bloodshed. I could not risk the lives of the students,” Galicia says. He knew the men had violence in mind; one of them had already hit him with a rifle butt.

“Gideon did the right thing,” says another young teacher, Aivy Hora. “But he still feels guilt. The mind tells you the truth – there was nothing you could have done.”

“But your soul” – she holds a palm over her heart – “it is screaming.”

Aivy, very petite and slim, is often mistaken as a student. She and Galicia and Samarca are not Lumad. They chose to live and work with the community so that more Lumad could graduate and go back to teach in their communities.

That was the dream of Michelle Campos, the oldest daughter of Dionel, who was at her college class when she heard of the murders.

Michelle was Alcadev’s valedictorian, the pride of a father who never got the opportunity to study. Following his killing and the collective flight of the Lumad to neighboring Tandag City, Michelle has had to drop out of school.

She, too, has moments where she asks, “could I have saved Papa if I was there?”

Michelle, 17, quickly shoves the question away. She prefers to focus her attention on her mother and younger siblings. The girl who looked forward to the weekend singing, dancing and farming sessions with her father has taken on the burden of leadership, as one of the main spokespersons for Alcadev’s beleaguered youth.

How can we heal?

Social workers from government, religious groups and other private groups have been ministering to Lianga’s displaced children — and thousands others crammed into sanctuaries in Davao City, Bukidnon and North Cotabato.

Art work helps children of Lianga deal with their trauma. (Photo from SOSCaraga)
Art work helps children of Lianga deal with their trauma. (Photo by ManilaToday)

Laurezo, who documented the recent Mindanao-wide Lumad Children’s Congress in Cortez, Surigao del Sur, says some of the art play bring her to tears. The therapy brings out a melange of hopes and dreams mixed with grim realities. Some days, she says, hope gets the upper hand. Some days, it is darkness that reigns in the children’s imaginations.

Traditional wisdom says therapy aims for the day when a traumatised person can move on and get on with life. It is hard to move on when the attacks are sustained, coming with numbing regularity.

Michelle Campos, daughter of slain lumad leader, Dionel Campos. Photo by inday espina-varona
Michelle Campos, daughter of slain lumad leader, Dionel Campos. Photo by inday espina-varonaMichelle looks away at the question.

Michelle says:

“Anong ‘move on’? Matagal nang dumudugo ang lupa. Last year, pinatay nila si Henry Alameda. Tapos, si papa. At walang nakikinig sa panawagan naming buwagin ang paramilitary.” (What do you mean, move on? Our land has been weeping blood. They killed Henry Alameda last year. And now, papa. And nobody listens to our demand to disband the paramilitary.)

The other children saw the Magahat men force Campos to his knees and shoot him in the head. They saw the men beat Sinzo, shoot at him and fire around him as warning to the rest of the Lumad. They saw younger kids scamper away, screaming; their mothers, also screaming, chasing after them. They saw Sinzo fight for his life. They saw the desperate application of emergency aid. Their minds recall those few desperate minutes in slow motion, in full color.

The children say their minds went blank and then flared with red the moment they knew Sinzo was gone. They will never forget the sight of Michelle’s younger sister, Sheina, a grade 6 student at TRIFPS, kneeling beside her slain father, waving a strip of cloth to keep insects away from his face.

Sheina Campos, 13, keeping insects off the body of her slain father, Dionel, a lumad leader of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Photograb from Kilab multimedia production, "Tum-od"
Sheina Campos, 13, keeping insects off the body of her slain father, Dionel, a lumad leader of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Photograb from Kilab multimedia production, “Tum-od”

It is hard to heal, Laureza says, when no rational reasons seem to exist for the brutal attacks against their parents and mentors. While the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has sent food and other basic needs for the evacuees, it has been silent on the grave rights violations visited on Lumad children.

Instead, Secretary Corazon Soliman has offered “resettlement” as an option for the Lumad, a suggestion met with anger by youth and adults.

READ Displaced Lumad nix resettlement 

“She offers a ‘solution’ but she doesn’t even acknowledge the problem, which is human rights violations by paramilitary and military who are acting as protectors of mining companies,” Michelle pointed out.

Read: Slain Lumad leader’s child to PNOY: Your peace is of the Graveyard

Fighting Back

Michelle, Bandam and dozens of youth are part of the 700-strong Manilakbayan, which has just crossed the waters separating the Visayas from Luzon.

( VIDEO courtesy Altermidya: Michelle Campos on a #Manilakbayan2015 bus, says despite denials of not knowing her father’s killers, the military continues to operate with the Magahat paramilitary forces.)

The 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 Aquino III’s administration are lumad. The human rights watchdog Karapatan and Save Our Schools (SOS) Network say 13 children have been killed by state forces under the incumbent Commander-in-Chief, four of them Muslims and ten Lumad.

Slide1

Operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and more than 20 paramilitary groups, some funded by mining firms, have displaced more than 40,000 Lumad – half of them children.

Unlike last year’s Manilakbayan, when few of the public paid attention to protesting Lumad, thousands are expected to welcome them next week.

Aside from militant support groups, students of various schools, including the big Catholic universities and colleges are readying the red carpet.  Showbiz celebrities, doctors, professionals, beauty queens and entrepreneurs have banded together to help feed the protesters and raised funds for Lumad schools. Musical artists are also preparing fund-raising and solidarity concerts.

At least two city councils – in Marikina and Caloocan – have come out with resolutions calling for a halt to the killings of Lumad.

Even youth normally pre-occupied with pop phenomenon have joined the campaign, rolling out a major drive for art supplies and books for the 87 lumad schools that have suffered attacks.

Slide1

From #StopLumadKillings Twitter thread
From #StopLumadKillings Twitter thread

Why schools and 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.

Even as the Manilakbayan landed in Luzon, a barangay captain in White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon, padlocked the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School, which is overseen by the  Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc (MISFI).

Read: Despite LGU, DepEd warning, village chief closes down lumad school

In defiance of warnings from the municipal government and the education department, barangay captain Felipe Cabugnason led a group of men in destroying the school fence and then ordering the school vacated.

“Get out. We don’t want you to be victims,” teachers quoted him as saying. Twenty student boarders, three teachers and the school administrator were forced to evacuate with livestock to Arakan, North Cotabato. They have taken shelter at the Parish of Our Mother of Perpetial help.

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.

Paramilitary forces were strengthened early in the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But the attacks on Lumad schools is a phenomenon that cropped up only under the government of Mr. Aquino.

The Armed Forces claims the farms of the alternative schools are food and logistics hubs for the New People's Army,
The Armed Forces claims the farms of the alternative schools are food and logistics hubs for the New People’s Army,

The AFP claims the schools are havens for guerrilla cadres. It has paraded several datus, including some already identified as killers of lumad civilians, and some former students of alternative schools who claim Alcadev and the Salugpongan network in Davao del Norte train children to be combatants.

The lush school farms, the military claims, also function as logistics hub for the New People’s Army.

But most of the young witnesses presented have stepfathers who are soldiers. The military’s claim that two minors killed last August in Bukidnon were rebels has been dismissed by no less than the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights.

Chairman Chito Gaston called the deaths extra-judicial killings, pointing out that aside from the two minors, two young male adults, the soldiers also killed a blind, 70-year old man. The lone survivor, also a minor, said the five were all members of his family. He identified the killers as soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Battalion and said they killed the men one by one, execution style.

The survivor also said the AFP later sent emissaries to his mother to negotiate “compensation” in return for their silence.

Read CHR: Lianga, Pangatucan deaths are ‘extra-judicial killings’

Witnesses at Dao, White Culaman say the village chief was in a company of men in civilian clothes who had the bearing and the haircut of soldiers.

The attacks on Lumad schools are a bitter pill for indigenous peoples who are just seeing the first generation graduating from high school.

Alcadev students and teachers at the Tandag City evacuation camp. Photo by Inday Espina-Varona
Alcadev students and teachers at the Tandag City evacuation camp. Photo by Inday Espina-Varona

Michelle, reacting to Iloilo Liberal Party Rep. Jerry Trenas call for a Department of Education review of Alcadev’s curriculum, said:

It is hard to heal, Laureza says, when no rational reasons seem to exist for the brutal attacks against their parents and mentors. While the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has sent food and other basic needs for the evacuees, it has been silent on the grave rights violations visited on Lumad children.

Instead, Secretary Corazon Soliman has offered “resettlement” as an option for the Lumad, a suggestion met with anger by youth and adults.

READ Displaced Lumad nix resettlement 

“She offers a ‘solution’ but she doesn’t even acknowledge the problem, which is human rights violations by paramilitary and military who are acting as protectors of mining companies,” Michelle points out.

Read: Slain Lumad leader’s child to PNOY: Your peace is of the Graveyard

Military officers have said they support a call by Liberal Party Rep. Jerry Trenas for a review of the curriculum of schools like Alcadev. Trenas claimed videos of Alcadev students show they are being taught to hate the government.

Michelle laughs and calls Trenas statements absurd. “We are not taught to hate the government. Life teaches us to hate some of the things the government does.”

She hurls a challenge at Trenas: “What does he want? That we fall on our knees and thank the killers of our people?”

Schools like Alcadev have a non-traditional program, often a euphemism for vocational education for children who cannot afford higher education. Despite a curriculum geared to agriculture, Alcadev’s students consistently pass the high school equivalency exams. Its role in improving agriculture practices and showing consistently high academic standards have earned regional awards.

There is no hiding, however, the militant identities of its students. The young scholars are proud to be so.

After all, Michelle points out, while other areas in CARAGA show the dire results of mining and other environmentally destructive activities, the 59,000-hectare Andap Valley remains relative pristine, “because we know how to fight for our land.” (To be continued)

Part II — Rape of the earth, proxy wars fuel unrest in Lumad lands

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