The Truth about the Lumad Schools

“There was no need for a rescue.”

Wednesday, May 26, was a good day. Finally, the truth about the lumad schools came out – and what better place for that to happen but in the hallowed halls of Congress where the House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights conducted a hearing via Zoom on the February 15, 2021 raid and arrests of the Lumad bakwit school in Talamban, Cebu.

I commend the even-handed chairman of the Committee on Human Rights of the House of Representatives, Representative Jesus “Bong” Suntay of Quezon City. He was the perfect presider, fair and balanced, respectful of all the witnesses.  Thanks also to Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero and the Makabayan Representatives for their unwavering support of the victims of the Cebu raids. Thanks also to pro-administration Representatives as well as government officials from the NTF-ELCAC, DepEd, NCIP, PNP, and DSWD for asking tough questions which the witnesses from the Bakwit schools answered truthfully. Paradoxically, because of their questions and interventions, the truth came out.

The way the Lumad teachers and students brilliantly and calmly answered the latter is the best proof that the Lumad schools are as advertised: they are educating Lumad children for the future, these are legitimate and excellent schools.I was particularly impressed by the testimonies of 16- year-old Mikay, a student, and volunteer teachers Rochelle and Jurain.

Mikay testified: “It was not a rescue and we didn’t need rescuing. What we needed was for our rights as children to be respected and for our calls to be heard. We want our schools back.” I have personally interviewed Mikay for hours and I can definitely assure everyone that this child speaks the truth, is not being manipulated, and is not being coached.

I have also spoken to Teacher Roshelle and I believed she was indeed subjected to “psychological torture” when she was interrogated almost every day by the police and other officials. “They told me we wouldn’t be released unless we admit to being rebels,” according to Rochelle.I must also say it was inappropriate for the authorities to replace Rochelle’s chosen lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers with their own appointed lawyer. In the hearing, Teacher Rochelle expressly repudiated that and signified that NUPL are her chosen lawyers.

Teacher Jurain testified about what they taught in the Lumad schools – English, Filipino, and other prescribed subjects. This was confirmed by SVD Father Provincial Fr. Rogelio Bag-ao (the SVD owns the University of San Carlos which gave sanctuary to the Lumad school), observing that the Lumad students were having typical classes along with gardening, as opposed to allegations of combat training, and were in contact with their parents all the time they were in Cebu.

What the hearing showed is that the Department of Education was completely wrong and unjustified in closing the Lumad schools; in doing this, it allowed itself to be a blunt instrument of fascism. No due process was followed; facts were completely ignored in taking that step.

In the hearing, we were able to show that the Lumad schools did things by the letter, followed all DepEd requirements, and were taught the prescribed curriculum by very qualified and well-motivated teachers and administrators who are competent, innovative, and committed.I have been a teacher for 40 years and these teachers and administrators are among the best I have seen. And the students too are highly intelligent, very disciplined, and passionate about their communities.

I have taught thousands of college, law, and graduate students. These Lumad students, if given the chance, will become like my students – lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc – and yes teachers. That’s what they tell me, by the way.

What the hearing also showed is that the police acted illegally in Cebu when they raided the bakwit school inside the University of San Carlos Talamban campus. From the very beginning, as our colleague from the Children’s Legal Bureau pointed out, by bringing media along, the raiders were not serious about rescuing the Lumad children. Such operations must be confidential to protect the children. They didn’t do that.

There was no need for a rescue. While the parents had given their consent, they could come pick up their kids anytime. In fact, that has been done in the UP bakwit school where all the minor children have been returned to their parents because of the pandemic and the government threats.

As a constitutional and political law professor in a dozen law schools, I condemn this brazen violation of rights. This has been affirmed by the prosecutor dismissing all the cases against the Bakwit 7.

As a Mindanawon myself, an educator for four decades, and an indigenous peoples’ rights lawyer for 30 years, I have never felt so right that I have taken the right side in this fight. The lumad schools – the teachers, students, parents, their supporters – will prevail and history will not look kindly on those who tried to crush them.

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