OPPOSITION lawmakers and children’s advocates on Sunday demanded that the Department of Education rescind its Memorandum 221 allowing soldiers to encamp in school premises and daycare centers, resulting in the trauma and displacement of indigenous schoolchildren.
In Mindanao alone, the Save our schools Network has documented 20 Education Department schools that were said to have been attacked or used by the Armed Forces, while 214 cases of military attacks on lumad community schools were listed.
Most of those cases took place in 2013 and 2014, the SOS Network said.
Gabriela Rep. Emmi De Jesus slammed the Education Department for its alleged inaction on the complaints of indigenous children and their elders over the agency’s alleged complicity in allowing soldiers to harass and occupy their schools.
He call for the immediate military pullout from school premises was supported by her six other colleagues in the Makabayan bloc.
In a dialogue held at the Education Department’s headquarters in Pasig earlier this week, De Jesus chided Secretary Armin Luistro for not asserting his mandate to protect the right to education of children especially in the indigenous communities.
De Jesus said she was “very alarmed that the agency still has not made concrete actions for the immediate pullout of the military in the areas mentioned.”
Manobo children and village chiefs picketed the Education Department’s gates as De Jesus and the leaders of the child rights’ organizations under the Save Our School Network, with Salinlahi Children’s Alliance as its lead, held a meeting with Tonisito Umali, the Assistant Secretary of Legal and Legislative Affairs.
After hours of pleading with the department s to rescind its Memorandum 221, De Jesus said Umali merely gave a bureaucratic promise of calling for a “continued review and study” of the conditions obtaining in alternative schools in the tribal communities.
“We are challenging Brother Luistro to uphold civilian authority over military command,” De Jesus said.
“It is his job to assert to President Aquino that, as commander in chief, he has the power to put a stop to the havoc being brought about by the militarization in the countrysides, particularly in schools and tribal communities.”
The SOS Network said the public schools (day care, elementary and high schools) located in the hinterlands, including the lumad community schools established by private groups and individuals, had been facing the terror brought about by the military operations under the counter-insurgency Oplan Bayanihan.
“One of the provisions of RA 7610, or the Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination, bans military from using schools, hospitals and rural health units for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments and supply depots,” the network said.
“However, despite the prohibition stipulated under the law, elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines blatantly use/attack schools during military operations.
“Soldiers utilize schools as temporary military camps, barracks/shelter, storage of weapons and belongings and outposts.
“Students, teachers and community members live in an unprecedentedly harsh and dangerous environment with the presence of the military in schools and communities. Early exposure to violence is one of the alarming and threatening consequences of the military attacks on schools.”
In March 2012, the SOS Network said elements of the 85th Infantry battalion occupied an elementary school in Lopez, Quezon, where children were encouraged to watch films showing the bloody encounters of between the military armed groups.
The sounds of military operations and the mere presence of soldiers carrying high powered ammunitions in their schools were very disruptive, the group said.
“In San Miguel Las Navas, Samar, military elements of the 34th Infantry battalion permanently used the day care center along with the barangay health center and church,” the group said.
“Children complained about the foul odor coming from the walls of the Day Care as the soldiers were using it as their urinal. They also used parts of its wall as firewood leaving the infrastructure unsafe and unpleasant.” Christine F. Herrera