Save Our Schools Network believes that the series of harassment are “systematic attack to demonize” Lumad schools.
By Lora Noreen Domingo
Seven Lumad from Balingasag, Misamis Oriental, were arrested without warrant on June 26 after their houses were raided in Barangay Blangko through the combined efforts of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and Philippine National Police (PNP) accompanied by barangay officials.
According to the Northern Mindanao Indigenous Peoples’ network Kalumbay Regional Organization, the detained Lumad are their members, namely, Higaonon leader Datu Reynaldo Ayuma, Pablita Hilogon, Glenn Hilogon, Bambi Hilogon, Toto Hilogon, Junjun Ayoman and Jesson Langka. The office said that the allegedly found ammunition by the state forces from them are planted during the operations.
They are among the residents who were forced to evacuate from their community in Sitio Camansi, Barangay Banglay, Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental following intense militarization, red-tagging and harassment in their community. Before they had taken residence in Barangay Blangko where they were arrested, they had stayed in the Misamis Oriental Provincial Capitol Grounds from 2018 until the local government demolished their makeshift shelters in 2019.
Datu Reynaldo Ayuma was at the forefront of defending their ancestral domain in Mt. Balatukan against foreign companies’ mining and logging interests and local governments’ plans to expand tourism projects to exploit the area’s hot springs. Their resistance was met with heavy military presence and military operations, resulting in a string of human rights violations committed by the operating AFP units.
Condemnation from progressive groups
Meanwhile, several organizations condemned the illegal arrest of the seven Camansi evacuees and called for their immediate release.
In a statement by the Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination (SANDUGO), they said that even before the Anti-Terror Bill was passed by the Congress, they have faced numerous intimidation and harassment from state forces.
“Our constitutional rights to freedom of speech, information and dissent have repeatedly been violated by government forces with impunity. We are certain that the Anti-Terror Bill will only further embolden such abuses of power,” SANDUGO said.
The Kalumbay Lumad Organization declared the arrests as “an attack on legitimate organizations critical of the anti-poor policies of the Durterte government poorly disguised and written off as a counter-terrorism operation.”
Anakbayan UP Cebu stated that the arrests of the seven Lumad along with 20 protesters during the peaceful Pride protest in Mendiola, Manila that same day, were evidence of the administration’s silencing of progressives and critics.
“The COVID-19 crisis has further exposed Duterte’s Marcosian agenda. While the Filipino struggles to defeat the pandemic, this government has misplaced its priorities to address it,” the progressive group said.
History of harassment
This is not the first time that Lumad communities were threatened by the military’s counter-terrorism operations. On January 2019, Ireneo Udarbe, chair for Northern Mindanao of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), and Datu Jomorito Goaynon, regional chair of Kalumbay Lumad Organization, were arrested after police allegedly seized firearms, fragmentation grenades and subversive documents from them. The two Lumad leaders were alleged by the PNP to be responsible for the attack of a police station in Binuangan, Misamis Oriental on December 7, 2017. Udarbe has been released but Goaynon is still being detained.
Students and teachers in Lumad schools also reported numerous incidents of harassment by the military. On June 13, two students of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation (MISFI) in North Cotabato and their father Mongkel Tacalan were held inside the 39th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army camp after they were taken by police.
On May 10, ten students from MISFI were rounded up by barangay officials and taken to a daycare center where a member of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) gave them a test on what they are learning in school by making them sing the national anthem, list national heroes and other general information.
Save Our Schools Network explained that these series of harassment on students and teachers “point to a systematic attack to demonize the school.”
On June 14, the military took to Lianga, Surigao Del Sur to warn teachers and students that the ALCADEV and TRIFPS Lumad schools will be shut down and that teachers who continue to hold classes will be arrested. Some students have remained in Lumad schools under the guidance of teachers due to the province’s quarantine travelling restrictions. [P]