CLASS OPENING “Lumad” students attend the flag-raising ceremony during Monday’s opening of classes at their “bakwit” school at the University of the Philippines’ International Center in Diliman, Quezon City. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA
“I want to be an engineer to build a school for ‘lumad,’” Dwayne Colas said.
“I want to build something we can call our own so they will stop calling us ‘school for the NPA,’” he said, referring to the communist New People’s Army.
“If I become an engineer, I can put a mark on the blueprint, and tell them I built the school for the tribal community, not for rebels,” he added.
Colas, 17, is one of 109 Grade 6 to 12 students who temporarily live and study at “bakwit” school—school for evacuees—that opened at the University of the Philippines’ International Center (IC) in Diliman, Quezon City, on Monday.
Like his classmates, his eyes sparkled, he spoke with conviction as he sat on the floor of the school, certain his dream would come true.
First in Metro Manila
UP is the first school in Metro Manila that has given space to lumad (indigenous people), about 200 of them, who fled martial law and “militarization” in the Caraga and Davao regions in Mindanao.
Most of the lumad communities have been in UP since June, staying in the IC dormitory.
Chancellor Mike Tan, who chairs the Save Our Schools Network, supports the communities and their right to continued education.
Ruis Valle, Save Our Schools Network spokesperson, said the students would continue normal schooling, using the Department of Education’s regular curriculum in an alternative setting in Metro Manila.
“Most of the students chose to remain in Manila, as they fear being attacked, bombed or harassed in their previous schools,” he added.
Other schools, such as the University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle University, have expressed their intention of accommodating lumad students.
The children will be given indigenous people education and grounding on defending their right to self-determination, ancestral land and education, Valle said.
The same alternative setup has been used in past evacuations, such as in the UCCP Haran Center in Davao City and at the Tandag Sports Complex in Surigao del Sur province, where students were displaced by attacks on lumad communities, including the Manobo of Agusan del Sur, Mansaka of Compostela Valley and B’laan of Mt. Matutom.
During the flag-raising ceremony, the students at the UP International Center sang the national anthem with anticipation and depth, probably drawn from their experience in Mindanao.
“We urge you to lend your ears for the lumad children, Mr. President. Please ask them and not your war-mongering military advisers,” Valle said in a statement.
He cited Mr. Duterte’s recent threat to bomb lumad schools, and the statement of Gen. Eduardo Año, the military chief of staff, that he would bomb the lumad schools “so NPA could no longer use the structures.”
Valle said the school was looking for more volunteer teachers who had the heart to teach the displaced children.
“The students are just 20 percent of all the lumad students left in the province. There are more left who have stopped schooling,” one of the teachers at the school said.
Currently, there are 22 volunteer teachers who left Mindanao to teach the students who were evacuated to Metro Manila.
Colas left his mother and sibling “to sacrifice and study” in Manila for his family’s future.
Wearing his traditional costume, teacher Ramil Miguel asked his 30 students about their dreams, as if to set an atmosphere of hope and anticipation in the classroom.
Most of the students wanted to be teachers, a few wanted to be agriculturists, while two wanted to become engineers. Only one wanted to be a doctor.
Miguel, who hails from Soccsksargen, was wounded in one of the attacks against the lumad.
“I was shot while teaching a class. They wanted the school operations to stop and the best way to do that was to stop the teacher,” he said.
Another volunteer teacher, Arjay Perez, 24, secretary general of the Association of Community Educators, had the same dedication and passion for teaching lumad children.
“Their tears and cries and their desire to learn move me. Education is the only thing they want, yet they are being deprived of it. I want to help the poorest of the poor,” he said.
The teachers—some are fresh graduates, some have experience of four years at most—passed up the minimum P20,000 that they could get as teachers at regular schools.
Instead of a salary, they get only a P4,000 allowance to cover their most basic needs.
“I can feel that my vocation is really in helping the most vulnerable. Teaching is a profession and I can feel I’m living out my calling by helping the lumad,” Perez said.
The school needs more donations, such as blankets, food, school supplies and more clothes, as most of the students had at most two sets of clothing when they left their hometowns.
The classrooms have no electric fans, chairs and tables. The students have no uniforms and textbooks.
In one classroom, the teacher uses manila paper pasted on the wall as blackboard.
The walls are empty, save for some streamers and posters about martial law.
Hanging outside one classroom were recently washed laundry.
The students’ food came from private and church groups in the provinces.
Unlike the majority of the students, “John” sat quietly beside his mother, Babelyn Sanong, who monitored him in the classroom.
John, 11, remained traumatized after witnessing how his father, Kama, a pastor with the Association of the Dulangan Manobo Evangelical Church, was dragged by soldiers from their house in Sultan Kudarat.
Kama is still in jail for illegal possession of firearms. The evidence against him was planted, according to Sanong.
John’s teacher Luisito Penaloza, an Ilonggo, said he would teach John using a more careful approach.
“We will not force him to catch up with his other classmates. We will take it easy. We will subject him to more counseling,” he said.
Save Our Schools is a network of child rights advocates and organizations, including Salinlahi, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, Gabriela, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, and Student Christian Movement of the Philippines.