MANILA – “All they want is to have access to education and this is what they get.”
This was the lament of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing who joined the call for justice for the Sept. 1 killing of Lumad leaders and a tribal school administrator in Surigao del Sur.
The Lumad communities of the province are close to the hearts of the Benedictine sisters, who have built a mission station in the community of Marihatag, Surigao del Sur since the 1990s. The St. Scholastica’s College (SSC), run by the nuns, has also adopted the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) for six years.
The struggle of the Lumad has become the struggle of the Benedictine sisters, said Professor Rebecca Padilla-Marquez, SSC dean of student affairs.
“We are here today to make our voice louder so that the government could hear our call,” said Sr. Cecille Ido, OSB, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation – Missionary Benedictine Sisters (JPIC-MBS) chairperson, during the press conference in SSC on Monday, Sept. 7.
Commitment for Lumads’ education
Education has been the mission of the Benedictine sisters, said Marquez. That is why the SSC and the sisters of Benedictine have committed themselves to help the Lumad community in Surigao del Sur in any way they can.
Marquez added that during her visit in Marihatag in 2006, she saw the scarcity of educational materials in the Lumad schools. The libraries have no books and laboratories lack equipment such as microscopes.
“We asked them why they do not have such things, and they said the soldiers burned their things whenever there is an operation,” she said during the press conference.
In 2010, the SSC committed itself to adopting the Alcadev schools in Marihatag and Han-ayan by providing educational materials and trainings. To formalize their commitment, in 2011, the SSC, Alcadev and the local government of Marihatag signed a Memorandum of Agreement to continue extending their assistance to the community. Alcadev, in return, will share knowledge on the culture and indigenous ways and tradition.
“Teacher trainings are also conducted regularly, seeing the dedication of the Lumad educators as they respond to the urgent need to educate the lumads,” said Marquez.
Marquez said every year, SSC students and faculty have been visiting Marihatag to distribute school supplies to the Lumad children. In June this year, they visited Han-ayan and provided different seminars to the teachers and students of the Lumad school, and also distributed school supplies.
She said they have witnessed how the Lumad communities struggle to have an education. It enrages them, she said, that such violence is committed against the school and Lumad communities.
“We knew these men are educators and we have worked with them for the past years,” said Marquez referring to Emerito Samarca, the executive director of Alcadev, Dionel Campos, Manobo group Malahutayong Pakigbigsog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) chairperson and his cousin Datu Bello Sinzo who were all killed in the early morning of Sept. 1.
Mother Adelaida Ygrubay, Prioress of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters said they denounce the militarization in the Lumad communities and schools, especially Alcadev and the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (Trifpss) in Han-ayan, Surigao del Sur.
“This curtails the children’s rights to education while being exposed to acts of violence, thus leaving them traumatized,” Ygrubay said.
She said that for years, the Philippine government has failed to provide the Lumads with basic services including education.
“This responsibility of the government has been generously shouldered by private individuals, institutions, religious groups, private schools and some international groups,” said Ygrubay.
These efforts support Lumad children in their material, professional and cultural needs, while their parents unite in providing them education, which they would otherwise be deprived of.
“But what has the government military forces done? Harass the communities, kill their teacher and leaders and destroy the school. Should noble efforts to educate the children and improve the quality of life of indigenous communities be met with suspicion and construed as a Leftist move? Where is the so-called daang matuwid?” she said.
Sister Theodora Bilacura of the JPIC also said church people have been working with Campos, Samarca and Sinzo in implementing programs for the Lumad community. “As church people, we should unite with the Lumads and their quest for justice,” she said.
She also called for the pull out of military in the country side. She said profit from mining areas in the region is behind the militarization which also drives away Lumads who have been living in the land for many years.
The Benedictine sisters said they have lined up activities to amplify the call for justice for the victims of killings.