When martial law was imposed in Mindanao by President Rodrigo Duterte last 2017 to serve as his initial draconian way to end armed conflict in far-flung areas, the worsening crisis in Lumad communities continued, leaving many ancestral lands being hotspots of militarization. Although martial law ended in Mindanao last 2019, harassment and attacks across localities, especially in Lumad schools, did not stop as the ongoing militaristic response to the pandemic and the recent passing of the anti-terrorism law was taken as an avenue for the regime to forward their fascist motives.
Since the start of Duterte’s term in 2016, there have been 216 Lumad schools in Mindanao. But due to his obsession in silencing enlightened citizens as a way for his regime to remain indestructible from dissent, only 38 schools remained as of September 2020, according to Save Our Schools Network. These values are not only numbers as these represent many Lumad children being severely deprived from their access and democratic rights to education.
In Cha Escala and Kristoffer Brugada’s documentary “Bullet-Laced Dreams”, which was screened in a local film festival named Daang Dokyu 2020 that revolves around stories on social issues, it follows the tale of 14-year-old Chricelyn Empong, a Manobo student who, together with other Lumad children, was displaced from their families since their community were infiltrated by the paramilitary.
Unheard plights, unwanted displacements
As the film progresses, we see closer narratives from teachers, children, Lumad leaders, and community organizers expressing their centuries-long struggles to their ancestral lands which have been long abused by different self-serving, fascist administrations and imperialist motives. Frame after frame, the stories unfold their core sentiments of how much they are deeply affected by the state-sponsored violence being spread within their localities.
Seeing how these unwanted displacements happened to these innocent children and their families increases the rage of how cruel the state is to oppress the marginalized. Eventually, Chricelyn and her schoolmates are now seeking sanctuary in Manila where they pursue their studies in a “bakwit” school funded by organizations advocating for Lumad rights.
The 29-minute documentary did careful yet powerful takes on illustrating the plights of the Lumad communities. It included some crucial advocacies that were emphasized very clearly, like showing scenes of Lumad children calling for a nationalistic, scientific, and mass-oriented education, Chricelyn promising his fallen father that she will continue their fight, and the collective community pledging to stand with the Lumad struggles.
One thing that is also great to point out is how the short film maximized its simplicity, given its short budget. It is subtle yet sincere. There was no romanticization or engagement in exploiting their struggles for commercial use as the filmmakers themselves took the courage to immerse with the communities.
Education for whom?
Films amplifying the struggles of the marginalized begs us the question why inequities and inequalities happen. In this context, we are given answers by showing us that these injustices are deeply rooted on how our current education system is colonial, commercialized, and fascist in orientation, which creates huge barriers between the rich and the poor. Given that the policies surrounding our academic sector have also been neoliberal, which pressures everyone to produce “world-class” outputs, this perpetuates the growing numbers of students who get completely left behind in the process. This concludes right up to this moment that the status quo has always been favoring the elites.
Students and children from far-flung areas and Indigenous communities get the least priorities in being provided with the basic necessities, especially to the rights for education. In this remote style of learning brought by the pandemic, they are the sectors that are hit the most yet the state chooses to neglect this. Worse, their schools are being closed, hunted down, and bombed by state mercenaries as a result of the Duterte regime’s ongoing war against communist rebels.
Trying times demand further resistance
Tyrannical and fascist leaders do desperate motives to remain in power. Aligned with them are plunderers in the government that further invites imperialist countries in exploiting our natural resources, hence justifying military presence in Lumad communities.
Defending the environment has always been the backbone and core within the Indigenous Peoples, since they are eagerly committed in safeguarding their ancestral lands. Since the government, composed of bureaucrat-capitalists and feudal politicians, has been enabling foreign countries to exploit our natural resources for the longest time, they see any form of resistance coming from these IP and Lumad environmental defenders as an enormous threat. They are desperate enough to forward imperialist-inspired counterinsurgency programs to justify militarization in Lumad communities, at the cost of development aggression.
Only a dictator deprives children from being enlightened by knowing the truths of the regime’s self-serving and demonic schemes. In an administration that brutally disregards human rights, bombs Lumad schools, and threatens environmental defenders, the collective movement to resist any form of oppression remains steadfast, especially now that the state blatantly attempts to militarize the safe spaces and zones of peace in our universities. [P]
Screengrab from Bullet-laced Dreams