PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III authorized the Armed Forces to close down and occupy lumad schools in Mindanao and had a direct hand in the campaign of violence and harassment against the tribal communities, a leftist lawmaker charged Wednesday.
“Malacañang can no longer feign ignorance, wash its hands, or pretend to conduct an investigation. The campaign against the lumad apparently has the sanction of the President,” said ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio.
Tinio said during deliberations on the 2016 national budget, Education Department officials in the Davao region admitted there was a plan to close down some 24 schools set up by the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center and replace them with schools run by soldiers.
The plan, the officials added, was hatched during an April 23 meeting called by the Regional Intelligence Committee, which was convened by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency or Nica, the government’s lead intelligence collection agency operating under the Office of the President.
“Nica officials report to the President and its director general is the President’s principal adviser on intelligence,” Tinio said.
STTILC schools are community-based schools voluntarily set up and maintained by the Talaingod Manobos with the support of missionary groups in the hinterlands of Davao del Norte.
Tinio said Davao del Norte Schools Division Supt. Josephine Fadul had written the Education Department’s director for Region XI, Alberto Escobarte, urging him to close the STTILC schools.
In her letter, Fadul said: “Should this request for the closure of said schools be granted, in its stead, this Division requests permission to implement the creation of a public high school in Butay, Talaingod utilizing military personnel as para-teachers as has been previously discussed and agreed upon during our meeting with the Regional Intelligence Committee… last 23 April 2015.”
Tinio said the key role played by the Nica in the closure of the community schools established the President’s direct hand in “orchestrating and coordinating the ongoing campaign of vilification, harassment, and violence targeting the lumad schools in Mindanao.”
“This explains why Malacañang has paid mere lip-service and taken no effective action to put an end to the extrajudicial killing spree against lumad leaders and the occupation of schools by the military,” Tinio added.
Tinio said the closure of community schools formed part of a larger counter-insurgency campaign aimed at neutralizing lumad resistance to large-scale mining in the Davao and Caraga regions.
Lumad schools have been taken over by soldiers, school houses have been burned, and teachers and students have been terrorized, he said.
On Sept.1, the executive director of a lumad school in Surigao del Sur was murdered by paramilitary forces said to be under the control of the military.
Under questioning by Tinio during the House committee on appropriations hearing, Fadul also confirmed that intelligence officers of the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were present during the April 23 meeting.
“This is a significant disclosure by Superintendent Fadul,” Tinio said.
“It belies the statements made by top officials of the AFP, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri, during their own budget hearing that the military played no role in calling for the closure of the lumad schools. Clearly, they were present and actively involved in planning the school closures and in suggesting that their soldiers be assigned as para-teachers. In short, AFP officials lied to Congress. Their game plan is obviously to deny everything and claim that the violence against lumad schools is part of an alleged tribal war,” Tinio said.
Tinio vowed to question Nica regarding its role in the campaign against lumad schools when their budget is scheduled for deliberation before Congress.
“There is now growing evidence that the campaign of violence against indigenous peoples, their schools and communities in Mindanao are under the direction of the President through the AFP and the NICA. We will fight for justice for the thousands of lumad that have been displaced, the children that have been deprived of education, and the individuals killed in the name of Aquino’s matuwid na daan (straight path),” Tinio said.
Human rights advocates slammed the Aquino administration Wednesday for failing to stop human rights abuses committed against indigenous people and human rights activists.
“More than nine months before the Aquino administration’s term ends, his administration will be remembered for lost ground on important measures of breaking impunity, which is the entrenched legacy of martial law,” said Edeliza Hernandez, executive director of the Medical Action Group Inc.
“These incidents are part of a growing pattern of criminalization of human rights work and alleged human rights violations committed against human rights defenders in the country that must be broken before it escalates beyond control,” Hernandez added.
Hernandez added that since September 2013, there have been at least 34 documented cases of harassment, intimidation and extra-judicial killings of human rights activists, including indigenous people. – With Rio N. Araja
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