Under the Gun: School for tribal children in Surigao bears brunt of militarization


First of three parts

LIANGA, Surigao del Sur — Myra, 18, a Manobo youth, is her parents’ teacher. She teaches them sustainable farming methods alien to the nomadic tribe’s shifting style of planting from one place to another.

Robert, 19, also a Manobo, teaches his parents household sanitation, nutrition and other health practices. He is able to perform minor surgery, first aid, acupuncture and serves as a health worker in monthly medical missions in different Lumad communities.

Myra and Robert are both students at the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) based in sitio Han-ayan, Diatagon village, Lianga town, in Surigao del Sur. Established in 2004, Alcadev is a non-formal boarding school which is the equivalent of a public high school. The school and its programs serve as a motivating force in the Lumad communities, improving literacy, agricultural production, health conditions, and even reinforce the unity among the Lumad residents.

But since July 18, classes were suspended at the school. Myra, Robert and the 124 other Alcadev students and their teachers packed their things and joined the evacuation of 15 Manobo communities that fled from soldiers in the area. The students and teachers are among the more than 1,796 residents of Lianga, San Agustin and Tago towns now crammed in makeshift tents at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Tandag, Surigao del Sur.

Classes were also suspended in six schools of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS), affecting 334 students. TRIFPSS schools are non-formal learning centers which is the equivalent of a public elementary school, with classes from level 1 to 6.

TRIFPSS and Alcadev were borne out of the efforts of the Lumad group Mapasu (Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod, or Persevere in the Struggle for the Next Generation), alongside the Diocese of Tandag and the NGO Sildap. TRIFFPS was established in ‘90s. Alcadev was subsequently founded so that deserving graduates of TRIFPSS may continue to acquire higher education.

Genasque Enriquez, general secretary of the regional tribal Filipino group Kasalo, said these efforts to educate the Lumads were part of their struggle against discrimination and exploitation of indigenous peoples. Now that the Lumads’ schools are under attack, the Manobo leader couldn’t help but react: “Don’t we have any right to send our children to school?”

The 15 affected Manobo communities are Yadawan and Kabulohan of San Agustin town; Lagangan, Tago town; the sub-villages of barangay Diatagon — Mike, Han-ayan, Kilometer 15 Bolhoon line and Andap line, Kilometer 9, 14 and 16, Emerald, Panukmoan, Manloy-a; and Kamangahan and Upper Oregon, the sub-villages of barangay San Isidro. Diatagon and San Isidro are sprawling upland villages of Lianga town.

“We will not return until the soldiers leave,” Robert said.

Subsisting on Lugaw

Robert said three days before they left Han-ayan, they have been eating two meals of lugaw (rice porridge) and only one meal of cooked rice, to stretch the limited rice supply.

Diatagon residents have complained that since 2008, the military had set up a food blockade, inspecting and limiting the amount of rice the people bring into the communities. But this year has been the harshest because the 58th IB limited the rice purchases to only five kilos per purchase of rice per family.

For those who want to bring in more, the military requires a the community tax certificate, barangay clearance, permits from the mayor and the Land Transportation Office, the official purchase receipt, as well as the list of names of all the persons who will consume the rice. All the requirements cost fees amounting to 70 pesos, and must be fulfilled every time one buys rice in large amounts.

Alcadev students and teachers consume 65 cavans of rice a month and the school purchases the grains in bulk to save on the transportation cost. They also buy an additional 12 to 16 cavans a month that they sell in the community cooperative to augment the residents’ needs. When the soldiers imposed the ban on large grain procurement, only four cavans were allowed entry each week.

The refugees were stopped in military checkpoints 11 times, extending a normally two-hour drive from Lianga to Tandag to 10 hours. (Photo by Dee Ayroso / bulatlat.com)

Marife Magbanua, Alcadev program director, quoted a military official’s statement saying the military presence in the area was meant to “pin down Alcadev.”

An Alcadev teacher, Jerome Loquite was transporting four cavans of rice when he was accosted by soldiers at the SAMMILIA checkpoint on July 15 and was brought to the main checkpoint where he was castigated by Lt. Col. Benjamin Pedralvez. “God damn it, you are so pig-headed!” were Pedralvez’s words, according to Magbanua. The army official was insisting that Alcadev submit a list of its students, and when the school refused, Pedralvez started to put pressure.

“You can bring in rice for the staff, but not for the students,” Magbanua quoted how the army official told off the teacher.

“The military claimed that the food that Alcadev buys was not for the students, that the rice was meant for their enemies, and so they limit the entry,” Robert said.

“We already had a hard time studying because our bellies were empty. We were getting weak,” Myra added.

Amor, a Level 6 student in Lagangan, Tago, said TRIFPSS students had to walk for two hours to get to school, and many stopped going to their classes. “They can’t come to class. They were hungry, and they still have to walk far,” she said.

In Han-ayan, Lianga, the Level 1 class erupted into panicked cries when the children saw the soldiers arrive in July. Class attendance in TRIFPSS dropped the following days as parents kept their children indoors. The last day before evacuation, only 30 out of some 200 students came to class.

Before the military imposed a food blockade, the Alcadev students never experienced hunger in school. Robert described their diet as “real food.” Vegetables, fish, poultry, meat and specially rice were abundant.

“The basic go, glow and grow diet is provided,” said Magbanua.

Magbanua joked that year 1 and 2 students become chubby in Alcadev. But their bodies trim down as they mature. “We have a school garden and the students themselves grow the vegetables that they, we eat.” There is also a fishpond and pigs, chickens and ducks. “There are many food crops and meat sources when the community is at peace.” (Bulatlat.com)

NEXT: School Helps Build Lumad Communities, to the Military’s Consternation