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25th Year of UNCRC, a time to heed lumad children’s calls

We are commemorating the 25th year of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on November 20 and amidst different issues that plague the media, the disquieting issue of military encampments and attacks on indigenous schools in Mindanao continue.

We cry out as we witness our government keep mum while lumad schools are attacked by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) through encampment on schools and even harassment, threat and intimidation of students and teachers during their military operations in the hinterlands, under the guise of Peace and Development Program of the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan.

The historic abandonment of our government in providing services such as education to the poor and marginalized has pushed lumad communities to persevere in order to educate themselves and their children. Adult community members, who had the chance to attend school, shared their knowledge to the young ones.

Absence of educational materials did not stop them to learn and unchain themselves from ignorance. They used their resourcefulness and utilized indigenous materials as their tools for learning. Fertile soil served as inexhaustible paper to write on with dry twigs, as their pencils.

Fueled by their boundless dream, combined with their collective effort, lumad communities in Mindanao established their own schools. As of today, there are 146 alternative schools providing formal and non-formal education to children of indigenous communities in Mindanao island, all of them supported by NGO’s and church-based organizations.  It includes Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC), Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. and Fr. Pops Foundation schools in Southern Mindanao; Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) in Surigao del Sur, and B'laan Literacy School and Learning Center in Saranggani.

Despite efforts of the indigenous peoples to establish alternative schools and programs on literacy and numeracy, military encampment and attacks on schools hinder lumads in attaining their dreams. They, who were historically left behind, are put into further destitution and are miserably facing the horrific acts of persons in authority, purportedly bound to protect them.

Gusto kong makapag-aral (I want to study) - this is the resounding wish that every lumad child utters. Their little voices pierce though our hearts. How could they study in peace while soldiers are encamping within their schools and communities? How could they learn to read and write if they are distraught by gun fires and bombs? We feel their unrest.

The government must put an end on the attacks and encampment in schools and communities and other forms of violations against children and indigenous communities. If the Aquino government truly respect and uphold the rights of children, now is the time to heed their calls. ###