[Statement] Back to School By Lilak

Back to School
By Judy A. Pasimio
LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights)

Reynalyn Enriquez breathed her last at 3 am of September 8. Or at least that’s when her mother noticed her lifeless. She was suffering from asthma for the past week. She was 4 years old.


According to news reports, Maribel, Reynalyn’s mother said her daughter’s condition was aggravated by “having to sleep on the cement floor . . . in alternating cold and hot weather.” There was simply no help that they can get, she said, “nothing that could maker her better.”

It would indeed be very difficult to make Reynalyn feel better in her situation – sleeping on the cement floor, along with almost three thousand people in that crowded evacuation center in Tandag City. Anyone who was sick, would be sicker. Anyone who was not, would be. There was food coming from the local government, church, and other organizations, but there were not enough toilets and the condition was simply unsanitary.  What is worse is what is in the air – fear, uncertainty, insecurity.

Reynalyn was a Manobo girl. She was from Sitio Magkahunao, Barangay Buhisan in San Agustin town of Surigao del Sur. Reynalyn and her family fled home on September 1, the day of the brutal killings of Emerito Samarca, Executive Director of ALCADEV (Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development), Dionel Campos, Chair of a Lumad peoples organization MAPASU, and Datu Juvello Sinzo, tribal chieftain of Kiwagan, Brgy. San Isidro, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.  Samarca or Tata Emok, Dionel and Datu Bello were suspected to be rebels. ALCADEV was suspected to be a recruitment camp for rebels. And with all these suspicions, they were definitely military targets  – and so they were killed brutally, inhumanely, by the paramilitary group tagged as Magahat. And that was what happened that dawn of the first day of September.

According to Maribel, they received word that their community would be one among the next targets of military and militia operations. Why? Because their community also has a tribal school, the Magkuanao Tribal Filipino School. An object of deadly suspicion. And so they fled. Reynalyn, Maribel and the rest of the family walked the whole day, and the whole night in the rain from the mountain village, up to where they could get transportation to Tandag City. There were hundreds of them from their community. In the evacuation center, they were joined by thousands more from the nearby towns of San Miguel, San Agustin, Tago and Marihatag, who were also afraid to stay at home in their village.

To date, there are almost three thousand indigenous peoples in the Tandag evacuation center. They refuse to go home until they are sure that they won’t experience the terror that the children, and the entire community of Han-ayan, Diatagon in Lianga experienced as they witnessed the killing of Lumad leaders Dionel and Bello, and saw the death of Tatay Emok.  They seek the disbandment of paramilitary groups such as Mahagat-Bagani, who led the Lumad killing in Lianga.

The indigenous communities, in their desire to provide education to their children, have established their own tribal schools. The public schools which are most often located in poblacions, or town proper, are not accessible to those who live in far flung communities. But more significantly, there is a need to provide a culturally-appropriate education for the indigenous children. However, these initiatives have been vilified by the military, accusing these schools as recruitment tools for rebels, and thus, have been targets for military operations.

Last June, Secretary Dinky Soliman of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) castigated the Lumads who camped out in front of the Department of Education in Davao City, “Those children should be at school.” Soliman said the groups are exposing the children to rain, and not being fed on a regular basis. The Lumads and the different organizations were calling for the issuance of permits of their tribal schools.  What would Sec. Soliman have to say now, to the hundreds of children who are in the Tandag evacuation centers, who fled their homes because they have tribal schools in their villages, and they fear are now the target of military and paramilitary operations? “Those children should be at school.” Can she say that again to the children and students of ALCADEV, who were rounded up at 4 am from their dormitory on Sept. 1, and was forced to watch the shooting of Dionel and Bello? Can she say that to them, after seeing the unrecognizable face of their beloved Tata Emok, heavily bruised, slashed from ear to ear, and body with gun shot wounds?

Those children should be back at school. Please, Sec. Dinky Soliman, go to Tandag evacuation center and tell them that. Because they really want to go back to their school. In fact, they really want to go back home. In this case, it is not the parents’ responsibility to put them back to school. It is yours. It is Pres. Aquino’s. It is the responsibility of the entire government machinery to…(create the condition that will allow them to go back to school).  They will be able to go back if the military and paramilitary groups are kept out of their schools, and their villages. So-called indigenous forces such as Mahagat-Bagani should be disarmed and disbanded. And the killers, the brutal killers of Tata Emok, Dionel and Bello should be put to justice. All of them – from the gunmen, to their collaborators and conspirators.

According to the State of Indigenous Peoples Address (SIPA) held last July of this year, “from 2011 to 2015 alone, there have been eighty two (82) documented incidences of military violations involving 57 schools in Mindanao. The harassment of school administrators, teachers and community leaders include threats, intimidation and even burning of school buildings.” The SIPA, participated in by76 indigenous leaders and representatives from 41 indigenous peoples’ communities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, “condemn the miserable plight of the victims of military operations in schools that are run by indigenous communities. We do not appeal for an increase in the number of textbooks, chairs and classrooms that the President bragged about in his last SONA, but what we demand is for the immediate withdrawal of military troops in our ancestral domains so that our internally displaced brothers and sisters can go back to their respective communities.”

Reynalyn Enriquez, who could be in school next year, was buried last Sept. 13, along with Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo in Surigao del Sur.  It was most appropriate that they be laid to rest together. The terror of what happened in the ALCADEV grounds, where Ka Emok, Dionel and Datu Bello were killed, spread across the lands of the Lumads. The bullets and the bolos that snuffed their lives, killed also the sense of security of the Lumad communities, pushing them to suffer the conditions of the evacuation center. What killed Dionel and Bello was what killed Reynalyn; who killed Dionel and Bello also killed Reynalyn.

In the Tandag evacuation center, where Reynalyn lay sick, her mother said there was nothing that could make her better. But there is something that could make her feel better, from wherever she is right now – justice.



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