Lumad students call to end Martial Law and save Lumad schools in Mindanao / Photo by Carlo Manalansan

The Department of Education – Philippines (DepEd) in Southern Mindanao, acting upon a report by National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr, has ordered the temporary closure of 55 Lumad schools.

According to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) report submitted by Esperon, the schools operated by Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center deviate from the DepEd curriculum, teach students to rebel against the government, and force them to attend anti-government mobilizations.

Esperon’s narrative merely echoes President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement in this 2017 State of the Nation address (SONA), where the threatened to bomb Lumad schools using the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine Air Force “because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government.”

The NTF-ELCAC was created by Duterte under Executive Order No. 70 in December 2018. The task force is chaired by Duterte himself, while Esperon serves as vice chair. Esperon has a bloody history of spearheading AFP’s anticommunist campaigns under the presidency of Gloria Arroyo, who is back in power through the efforts of Duterte and his allies.

In addition to the National Security Adviser, the NTF-ELCAC is composed of 17 top government officials, many of whom are former military and police generals appointed by Duterte himself:

1. Secretary, Department of Education
2. Secretary, Department of Social Welfare and Development
3. Secretary, Department of Information and Communications Technology
4. Secretary, Department of Public Works and Highways
5. Secretary, Department of Budget and Management
6. Secretary, Department of Finance
7. Secretary, Department of Agrarian Reform
8. Secretary, Department of Interior and Local Government
9. Secretary, Department of National Defense
10. Secretary, Department of Justice
11. Chair, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples
12. Director General, National Economic and Development Authority
13. Director General, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency
14. Director General, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority
15. Director General, Philippine National Police
16. Chief of Staff, AFP
17. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process

The NTF-ELCAC also includes two private sector representatives.

Sandugo condemns DepEd’s order for the temporary closure of Salugpongan. We challenge DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones and DepEd Southern Mindanao director-in-charge Evelyn Fetalvero: do not allow your department to be an accomplice in the government’s bloody red-tagging campaign. 

The Salugpongan schools were established precisely because of the lack of access to education and health services in remote Lumad communities. Students cannot simply “enroll in public schools” that aren’t there. Moreover, the curricula of Lumad schools follow DepEd regulations, but are tailored to the needs of the community, emphasizing agriculture, sustainability, and an appreciation for ancestral domain. 

It is these ideas that the government finds threatening and subversive, for these concepts problematize the encroachment of big businesses like mines and plantations on the Lumad’s rich homeland. Duterte himself has earlier stated that he will find investors to develop Lumad ancestral lands.

Sandugo calls on the DepEd to rescind its closure order on all Lumad schools. We also demand the lifting of Martial Law in Mindanao, which gives the government free rein and impunity to abuse power. Even before the suspension order, 44 Salugpongan schools had already been shut down because of military harassment. Instead of coming to the aid of Lumad schools, the DepEd’s actions exacerbate their torment.

We ask the public: do not be deceived by the government’s anti-communist campaign! Defend human rights, defend our right to education, stand with Salugpongan! Save Lumad schools, support all Bakwit schools and communities!