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It is an understatement that the killing of the New Bataan 5, which included volunteer Lumad teachers Chad and Jurain, last February 24 is one of the worst heartbreaks for those who are aware of the Lumad youth’s struggle to an accessible, safe, and quality education.
Chad and Jurain chose to serve the Lumad youth as volunteer teachers with all the vulnerabilities and risks that come with it. These were exacerbated by the fact that Lumad schools were unreasonably ordered closed by the Department of Education (DepEd) years prior, which then forced Lumad communities to organize makeshift Bakwit schools in precarious and — we now know — life-threatening conditions.
With the red-tagging, harassment arrests, and threats on personal security hurled against them, others could callously say that they had the killing coming. But no. We could not easily wrap our heads around the fact that state agents would cross this line and dare to kill teachers.
Information and impunity
One path to justice is through truth and accountability.
We must get to the bottom of these killings as far as science and objective fact-finding are concerned. With the truth and closure in mind, this painful endeavor, to which their respective families play a big part, must be pursued in both individual and institutional levels, such as an investigation led by the Commission on Human Rights and the Department of Justice with the cooperation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In this aspect, we welcome the expertise of Dr. Raquel Fortun, the foremost forensic pathologist in the country and a professor in the UP College of Medicine. Days before Chad was buried, Dr. Fortun had the opportunity to conduct a forensic autopsy on his body to hopefully determine the degree of injuries inflicted upon him.
An excerpt from Dr. Fortun’s preliminary autopsy findings, signed last March 10, is as follows: “Preliminary gross findings showed multiple gunshot wounds of the trunk causing death. There were internal hemorrhages […]. There were fractures of some ribs […] and thoracic vertebrae […]. The spinal cord was transected.”
What is apparent from the report — as affirmed by Dr. Fortun — is that the injuries were so fatal and so grave that even if Chad had been immediately subjected to medical attention, he would not have survived.
However, the ice-cold truth that Dr. Fortun’s forensic autopsy tells us is the inability to advance more definite conclusions on what truly happened because of the lack of relevant information. According to her in an interview, information as to the exact place and circumstances of the killing, physical evidence such as clothes, belongings, and unaltered bullet wounds, and equivalent forensic autopsies on the other four, could significantly increase the possibility of painting a more complete picture of the killing — all of which are unavailable to her.
As one would expect from a forensic pathologist who have seen cases upon cases of violent killings and looming impunity such as this, Dr. Fortun calls for institutionalizing reforms in the standard procedure in violent killings involving state agents such as the police and the military to prevent impunity. For the meantime, the CHR is called upon to conduct a comprehensive investigation.
Attack on teachers and the right to education
To approximate justice in another sense, we must also work to prevent the killing of brilliant young Filipinos, who will follow the footsteps of Chad and Jurain as volunteer Lumad teachers.
Before proceeding with how this can be made possible, we would like to point out first another inescapable truth. Two of the five killed were teachers. To be more precise, they were volunteer teachers of Lumads. Their chosen path could not be more noble than what it truly is.
As teachers and educators ourselves, we are appalled by the violence against the teaching profession. We cannot comprehend that, in our day and age, teachers will be targets of violence, especially of state-sanctioned violence.
Of highest priority is to hold government officials accountable for red-tagging teachers as well as environmental and human rights defenders. One of us (Dean Tony) himself has become a target of this evil tactic that smears people without basis. Dean Tony has been a human rights and environmental and climate justice lawyers for 33 years; he has also been an indigenous peoples’ rights lawyers for three decades and has taught hundreds of government officials – from judges to law deans, many officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, military and police officials, diplomats, and local government officials. There is absolutely no basis to red-tag him. We echo what Chad himself said: if Dean Tony is killed, it is the red-taggers in government that is responsible for it. Lawyers are monitoring closely the statements and social media posts of Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy and lawyer Marlon Bosantog for libelous and other harmful things they are saying about Dean La Viña. They will be held accountable to the highest levels if any harm is done to Dean Tony.
Indeed, we should make a collective stand against this behavior. Online violence leads to real life violence and this we see clearly in the case of Chad and the Lumad schools.
Consequences of killing Chad and Jurain
Imagine as well its rippling effect on the indigenous communities and to the very students whom Chad and Jurain served. Imagine their students who, on one fateful day of February, learned that their teachers were violently killed and whose bodies were even inhumanely paraded in the internet. What kind of trauma and anger does this bring to our youth? No Filipino youth deserves to experience such violence in his or her lifetime.
If this is the state of our society and will remain unchanged in the foreseeable future, truly the education crisis, as what Vice President Leni Robredo calls it, will persist for the generations to come.
At this point, we therefore ask to what extent has the State fulfilled its duty under Article XIV, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.”
The case of Pimentel v. Legal Education Board (G.R. No. 230642, Sept. 10, 2019) states that one of the two elements of the right to education is for the State “to take appropriate steps towards making such quality education accessible,” where “accessible” means equal opportunities regardless of social and economic differences.
Further, the same case also cites the late CHR Chair Chito Gascon as a constitutional framer in 1986. “[W]hen we say that education is a right, it imposes a correlative duty on the part of the State to provide it to the citizens. Making it a right shows that education is recognized as an important function of the State. Education is not merely a social service to be provided by the State. […] [T]he State cannot deprive anyone of this right in the same manner that the right to life, the right to liberty and property cannot be taken away without due process of law.”
With DepEd’s closure of Lumad schools and its consequent chilling and threatening effect to Lumad communities and volunteer teachers like Chad and Jurain, there is no doubt that the State has failed to fulfill its constitutional promise to the Lumads.
The sobering reality posed by the New Bataan killings is that these patterns of abuse will keep on happening unless we see it as a structural problem. Unless the State pursues an indigenous education-oriented and student-centered policy by allowing the operation and reopening of Lumad schools in the most vulnerable areas of the country, we as a society cannot offer sanctuaries of protection to students themselves and to volunteer teachers like Chad and Jurain who choose to serve on the margins.
Let us then work to end impunity by calling for a comprehensive investigation and for the reopening of our schools.
Justice to Chad and Jurain! Justice to the New Bataan 5! – Rappler.com