Lumad give Luistro deadline to stop armed attacks on their schools

Bea Orante
Lumad give Luistro deadline to stop armed attacks on their schools
The Lumad and their supporters say they are ready to file a complaint against the department secretary if he does not act on their issues

MANILA, Philippines – They have had enough of the education department’s alleged inaction to stop attacks on indigenous schools.

Lumad  staged a protest Tuesday, November 10 in front of the central office of the Department of Education (DepEd), giving Sec Armin Luistro three days to repeal Memo 221, s. 2013, and to help end alleged military attacks on their schools.

The memorandum, claimed Save Our Schools (SOS), “permits conduct of military activities inside schools.” Their report noted that having this directive allows military encampments in their community’s schools, which “severely affect students and teachers, as well as the schools’ operations.”

The delay in action from the department has led SOS, a group defending the Lumad’s right to education, to believe that Luistro is “powerless” and neglectful of his duties.

“Sec. Luistro’s refusal to revoke the memo is tantamount to the DepEd’s abandonment of its responsibility in ensuring children’s protection from violence under the fold of its jurisdiction,” said SOS spokesperson Madella Santiago in one of the group’s reports.

Violation of children’s rights

Memorandum 221 series 2013, or “Guidelines on the Protection of Children during Armed Conflict,” is a document issued by DepEd in December 2013. Its aim was to support existing national and international laws that provided for the protection of children.

The policy provides the process by which schools can accommodate military units and the guidelines for reporting cases of violations. However, speaking to Rappler, Kharlo Manano, SALINLAHI Secretary-General, noted the increase in the number and intensity of violations against RA 7610, believing that the memo “emboldened” the soldiers.

However, in a statement issued in response to the allegations, DepEd described the document as the basis for their “referral of cases to the Inter-Agency Committee on Children in Armed Conflict.” DepEd reiterated “that armed personnel are not authorized to occupy school premises as it puts our students, teachers, and personnel at risk.”

Manano also explained that the memo was in itself a violation of RA 7610 because it gave the military permission to conduct activities in school.

The department responded saying, “We maintain that schools are zones of peace, where the safety and well-being of our students, teachers, and personnel are of utmost importance” and that they “remain committed in ensuring the safety and well-being of learners, teachers, and personnel in our schools. We call on all armed persons—be they members of the military, police, or non-state groups—to respect schools as zones of peace.”

Sadness and anger

The Lumad children have been bearing the brunt of the effects. Recent events have left an indelible mark on the children, attacks and violations against them and their communities having become a mark of everyday life. Displaced and living under the constant fear of more violence, Manano said the children have been feeling dejected, despite attempts to lift their spirits.

During a day of games in Luneta, the children would relate seeing in the game of Patintero how they were being prevented from making full use of their rights.

“They are still sad na hindi sila makabalik sa kanilang komunidad at habang hindi nila ito makamtan, makakaramdam sila ng lungkot” (They are sad that they can’t go back to their community, and as long as they can’t, they will feel sadness) Manano added.

The children also said they felt anger, particularly towards those who are attacking their schools and communities.

Taking action 

Manano said they had already been in talks with officials from DepEd, but to no avail.

In December 2014, SOS had a dialogue with Sec Luistro and another with Asec Tony Umali in 2015 which had administrators from Lumad schools narrating their experiences. Nothing came of the talks.

Should the education secretary not act on their request, Manano said they were prepared to take the necessary legal steps.

Asked what would happen if their three-day ultimatum runs out, Manano replied, “Kapag hindi kami hinarap ngayon, we will do everything to hold him accountable.” (If he does not face us, we will do everything to hold him accountable.)

According to Manano, SALINLAHI and SOS have been consulting lawyers and are prepared to lodge a complaint against Luistro.

“There are grounds for filing a case,” he said, accusing the secretary of negligence and even complicity in the crime.

Nagiging instrument ang DepEd sa pag-violate ng rights ng mga bata” [DepEd is becoming an instrument in violating the children’s rights] said Manano. 

For Manano, the rallies have become empowering for the children, describing the demonstrations as a “manifestation of their unity.”

The children asked to join the activities in Manila so officials like Luistro see the effects of Memo 221 and the killings that followed. He said they were all still “looking forward to a better tomorrow” and they could only achieve that by standing together and exercising their “right to be heard.”

The indigenous peoples of Mindanao and their supporters arrived in Manila on October 25, nearly a week after their long journey from their communities.

The caravan participants, who are called Manilakbayanis, travelled from Surigao City to Eastern Visayas, before crossing over to Luzon island, highlighting their call to stop alleged human rights violations in various Lumad communities. –

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