SANDUGO Press Statement: February 16, 2021
Contact Person: Aya Santos, Public Information Desk, 09157814650
Pursuing education amidst tyranny is not a crime — Sandugo

To set the record straight, it is the Philippine government, specifically the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which pushed the Lumad children out of their indigenous communities. What happened yesterday at the University of San Carlos (USC) Talamban Campus was not a rescue operation but part of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s (NTF-ELCAC) scheme to silence indigenous communities, specifically the Lumad, in fighting for their ancestral lands and self-determination. The USC president and the Archbishop of Cebu have categorically said that “no rescue need ever be conducted,” that the students were housed in the USC Retreat House precisely for their “welfare and well-being.” The NTF-ELCAC’s ridiculous claim flies in the face of fact and logic on the ground.
Yesterday, officers from PNP Regional Office 7, AFP, and paramilitary group Alamara forcibly entered the space of the Lumad Bakwit School, which has been sheltering at the USC since March 2020. After a violent and disruptive operation, 26 were held, including 22 students, two teachers and two elders.

One of those arrested is Chad Booc, a volunteer teacher for the Bakwit School and a co-petitioner against the Anti-Terrorism Law. From the petition filed at the Supreme Court by Moro and indigenous peoples on the basis of human rights and self-determination, Booc is the third petitioner to be detained, after Cordillera leader Windel Bolinget at Higaonon datu Jomorito Guaynon.
In recent years, self-established Lumad schools have been the constant target of the AFP and its paramilitary groups. With their “IP-centric” Whole-of-Nation Approach, the AFP involved the Department of Education (DepEd) to issue closure orders on Lumad schools in Mindanao. This, despite Lumad schools having certifications and even awards from the DepEd in previous years. The students, volunteer teachers and their communities experienced threats, harassment, and numerous human rights violations perpetrated by either the paramilitary group Alamara or the AFP themselves. They even went as far as murdering a school administrator in his own classroom (Emerito Samarca, Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, 2015) and killing an unarmed Lumad student (Obello Bay-ao, Salugpungan ‘Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center, 2017).
This is why the Bakwit School is important. Lumad communities who were forced to evacuate their ancestral lands due to intense military operations opted to continue their children’s education, sheltered by those who are willing to provide peaceful sanctuaries. For the indigenous communities, it is of great importance that their children will learn to read, write, count and have the basic knowledge to cultivate and enrich their communities while protecting their indigenous ways. Beyond sustaining, the Bakwit School also expands their education by exposing them to different learning environments, fostering dialogue between cultures, and allowing them to tell their own stories firsthand.
To say that the children were forcibly separated from their parents is an enormous lie. It was their families who built the Lumad schools with their bare hands, and it was they and their parents and elders who mutually made the decision to continue their schooling in order to ensure the survival of their communities.
To say that the Lumad Bakwit school is an NPA training ground is ludicrous. There were no guns in the Bakwit School at the USC Retreat House, only modules, paper and pencils. Their only “weapons” are textbooks and their willingness to learn. And to say that this was a “rescue” is equally absurd, for what kind of rescuers manhandle and handcuff the very students and elders they were supposed to save?
After their so-called rescue, would these students be forced back to their communities overrun with Alamara paramilitary forces and Philippine Army soldiers, the same people who have tormented them for most of their young lives? Or would they be used by the NTF-ELCAC as fake surrenderees to banner their supposed triumph? We fear that these students will be used as fodder for more red-tagging of legitimate people’s organizations. The NTF-ELCAC’s modus operandi is clear: skew public perception of human rights advocates by branding them as terrorists, whether through “legal” measures like the Anti-Terror Law, or through relentless (and illegal) social media disinformation campaigns.
We, the national minorities under Sandugo – Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination demand the release of all the Lumad children, teachers Chad Booc and Roshelle Mae Pocadilla, and the two elders Datu Benito Bay-ao and Datu Segondo Melong. Our teachers and elders are neither terrorists nor kidnappers. Their selflessness in sustaining the Bakwit School to provide education to Lumad children is a noble cause. It is the opposite of terrorism. They must be celebrated, not jailed.
The real purveyors of terror are those who force the Lumad out of their communities. The biggest terrorist is the one who wields the most guns: the Duterte administration. Duterte’s explicit threat to bomb Lumad schools uttered at his 2017 State of the Nation Address, his railroading of the Anti-Terror Law, these embolden and enable the AFP to terrorize our schools—and the public at large. He maligns schools because he is terrified of people who know better. His campaign against the Bakwit School is a campaign against education. All learning institutions must rise against his tyranny of disinformation and incompetence. We must not let the torch of enlightenment be snuffed out. Not on our watch. ###
Please watch our press conference this morning.

Sandugo – Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination is an alliance of Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples’ organizations. We aim to protect ancestral territories and advance the right to determine our own lifeways.

Sandugo office is located at Room 304 National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP)
879 EDSA, West Triangle, Quezon City 1104, Philippines.
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