[Statement] PNFSP criticize another attempt to discredit Lumad schools

Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, Inc. (PNFSP) vehemently condemn another desperate attempt by the military to discredit and close down the Lumad schools, Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) and Tribal Filipino Programs for Surigao del Sur (TRIFFPSS) on the pretext of legislative inquiry orchestrated by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Congressional Committee on Indigenous Cultural Communities (CICCIP) and the 401st Infantry Brigade (IB) of the Philippine Army.

On April 26, 2019, soldiers belonging to the 401st IB arrived in Km 9, Sitio Simowao, Bgry. Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur and encamped in several houses there. In the morning of April 28, the soldiers gathered the community members in front of the school run by TRIFFPSS without asking permission, attempted to forcibly open the doors of the classrooms but were stopped by a community leader. Then an inspection team composed of officials from government agencies, namely, the Indigenous People’s Peace Panel of OPPAP, the Department of Education, Department of Interior and Local Government, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples suddenly arrived in 10 luxury vehicles to allegedly investigate on the reports that the two schools are connected to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. It is, however, confounding that the investigation team was accompanied by the soldiers from the 401st IB who has been accused by the Lumad of committing serious human rights violations against them and members of the paramilitary group, Magahat-Bagani who killed ALCADEV’s executive director, Emerito Samarca and two Lumad leaders in 2015. According to the people, the investigating team did not really investigate but just parroted the same lies and accusations hurled by the military against the Lumad schools.

The “investigation” was part of the relentless vilification campaign of the Armed Forces of the Philippines against the Lumad schools being led by its deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations, Major General Antonio Parlade Jr., who held a press conference in Butuan City immediately after the investigation accusing the two schools of being communist fronts without presenting any evidence. Instead, they presented two former teachers who were evidently forced to speak against the schools.

PNFSP would like to reiterate that Lumad schools are not communist fronts. They are academic institutions recognized by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), working with government agencies and private institutions through social services, such as food security programs and education. These programs have been beneficial to the Lumad communities since their time of establishment, advancing the communities livelihood, where government services are lacking.

Let us remind the government and the military that education is a universal right and that what the Lumad schools are doing is not just for the realization of the right to education but also their right to food. They deserve recognition, not vilification because these schools were established by the Lumad themselves and operate through the efforts and cooperation of the communities, volunteer teachers, and development workers from the time of its establishment. These schools propagate sustainable agriculture and appropriate technology that are beneficial to the community and the environment, a social praxis that embraces the preservation of native culture and tradition against the pressures of modernization and commercialization. We have never doubted that the continuing harassment, vilification, and killings against the Lumad are connected to the government’s plan to open the whole Mindanao island to foreign investors. These two schools are located in the Andap Valley Complex, a landmark rich in mineral resources and has been the target of huge mining companies after President Rodrigo Duterte opened the area for explorations.

PNFSP declares support to the Lumad despite the shrinking democratic space for development work in the Philippines. PNFSP will continue to support their struggle to defend their ancestral lands and their right to education. ##

Renmin Vizconde
Executive Director, PNFSP

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