QUEZON City, June 9, 2015—An interfaith alliance has denounced the government’s education department and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for closing three Lumad schools in Davao del Norte, and for replacing these with a public high school where alleged members of the military are slated to serve as “para-teachers,” saying this decision not only violates the rights of children and indigenous people guaranteed by international law, but also unnecessarily puts them in harm’s way.
“The move by the Department of Education [DepEd] to close three hinterland schools for the Ata-Manobo tribe in Talaingod, Davao del Norte affects adversely almost 3,000 Lumad children. Replacing them with a public high school using military personnel as para-teachers is an absolute violation of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Right,” shares Rex B. Reyes, general secretary of the National Council of Church in the Philippines (NCCP) in a recent statement.
According to him, these learning centers, which are supported by religious groups like the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and several Methodist churches, were established precisely in response to the government’s failure to provide basic social services in the area.
Gov’t support for schools
“The least the government can do is support these schools and not its tacit approval for their closure. The latter denies the rights of indigenous people to education,” notes Reyes .
He points out that the insistence of the AFP to occupy civilian facilities and militarize civilian functions instead of allowing mandated civilian government agencies like DepEd to take charge endangers the lives of children, and clearly violates the International Humanitarian Law which requires the military to ensure all civilian populations and civilian objects such as schools are protected from the effects of attacks.
“In journeying with the Lumads, NCCP has been prayerfully undergirding and supporting their struggle for land, life, and self-determination. We are compelled by the Gospel to speak out and call upon the Philippine government to pull out the military and paramilitary elements in Lumad Schools and to let these learning centers continue their operation free from military occupation and intervention,” Reyes says.
“We also call upon the government to provide basic social services to the Lumad communities such as adequate food and nutrition, healthcare, and affordable and quality education,” he adds.
Citing Psalm 82:3, Reyes explains the Biblical mandate calls all those who believe in Christ to defend the rights of the marginalized, especially children, that they be given equal opportunities to develop their potentials, and to be protected from harm. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)