NORZAGARAY, Bulacan, June 12, 2015—A Catholic missionary brother and indigenous peoples (IP)’s rights advocate has called on the Philippine government to respect the status of educational institutions for IP children for what they are supposed to be: second home, peace zone, and preserver of culture.
“As the second homes of our children, schools must always be zones of peace. Children, including those of our indigenous people, have all the right to security without the threat of militarization or of being caught up in an encounter with rebels,” Br. Martin Francisco told CBCP News in an interview.
Soldiers as teachers?
Francisco, a Blessed Sacrament Missionary of the Poor (BSMP) who has been ministering to the Dumagats of Bulacan for almost a decade, made this appeal in view of the decision of the Department of Education (DepEd) to convert three special schools in Davao del Norte the IPs themselves built into a regular high school where members of the military are reportedly slated to serve as “para-teachers.”
“We ask our government, the Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP], as well as the rebel elements to respect these schools as peace zones, not even to consider seeking shelter in them in times of military activities and subversive operations,” he stressed.
Francisco bemoaned the idea of appointing soldiers as para-teachers, pointing out this move runs directly against what the education department envisions for an IP school with an IP-oriented curriculum.
According to him, the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 mandates the state to “recognize and promote all the rights of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples (ICCs/IPs) within the framework of national unity and development.”
IP kids’ rights
Noting their vital role in nation-building, the law also guarantees the rights of IP children to their physical, moral, spiritual, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being.
Sec. 28 of IPRA reads: “The State shall, through the NCIP [National Commission on IP], provide a complete, adequate and integrated system of education, relevant to the needs of the children and young people of ICCs/IPs.”
“While we see there is a good intention behind all this, the decision to ‘militarize’ the IP schools is a step backward and discourages the full indigenization of these institutions and their curriculum,” Francisco added.
International law violation
Earlier, the National Council of Church in the Philippines (NCCP) also voiced their opposition to the closure.
“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,” Rex B. Reyes, NCCP secretary-general, shared in a recent statement. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)