Lumad school mocks Duterte’s offer of UP slots as new evacuation reported

Lumad villagers and students prepare on January 29 to evacuate from their communities because of alleged military abuses. (ALCADEV photo)

MANILA, Philippines — An award-winning lumad school in Surigao del Sur poked fun at President Rodrigo Duterte’s “offer” to kick out activists from the University of the Philippines and give their slots to indigenous youth even as an advocate group reported fresh evacuations of tribal families in the Mindanao province.

Speaking at an indigenous peoples’ forum at the headquarters of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, Duterte dissed UP students who staged a walkout to call for his ouster and dared them to quit so he could give their slots to lumad youth.

Kamong dili mang-iskwela, hawa mo diha kay dad-on ko nang mga nitibong bright ngari. Mao’y ipabutang nako diha. Daghang Pilipino nga gusto’g edukasyon nga gwapo (Those who do not want to go to school anymore, you get out because I will bring these intelligent lumads. I will put them there. There are many Filipinos who want good education),” Duterte said.

Responding to this, the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, or ALCADEV, tweeted: “First you told us you’d bomb our schools. And now you’re telling us you want quality education for us?! We’ve already established an education system relevant to our needs and our culture. If you want quality educ for us, pull out your military troops in our areas!”

Two images were attached to the tweet, one quoting Duterte after his second state of the nation address last year, when he threatened to have the military bomb lumad schools, the second quoting him on his offer of UP slots.

Another tweet said: “To every UP student who walked out from their classes to join us in our struggles, we express our heartfelt gratitude to you. You have already given us your slots when you welcomed us in your campus so many times! Padayon, pag-asa ng bayan (Onward, hope of the nation)!”

For the past few years, UP Diliman has hosted the annual “Manilakbayan” of lumad and peasants from Mindanao who journey to the capital to highlight their plight, mainly about militarization and the encroachment of extractive industries in their ancestral lands, and to demand relief from government.

In his recent speech in Davao, Duterte told the lumad to be ready to relocate and that he would choose investors to be granted access to their ancestral lands.

The resistance of may indigenous communities to mining, logging and large agricultural plantations has long been a source of conflict, helping fuel the communist insurgency in Mindanao and accusations of massive human rights abuses by state forces and militias.

ALCADEV itself, which the military has openly accused of espousing support for communist rebels, has often been targeted for violence or harassment of its students and staff. In September 2015, a military-backed militia murdered the school’s executive director, Emerito Samarca, and executed lumad leaders, Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo in front of hundreds of tribesfolk, including children, as a nearby Army unit looked on.

The killings triggered the evacuation of tens of thousands of lumad from the Surigao del Sur hinterlands.

Although Duterte had earlier boasted of being an advocate of lumad rights, lately, after he scrapped peace negotiations with the communists, he has taken to accusing indigenous people of sympathy for the rebels and openly threatened hem.

Late this week, the group “Friends of the Lumad in Caraga” issued a statement decrying “a series of human rights violations” that dove 161 Surigao del Sur lumad families, or 758 individuals, from 12 communities in Lianga and San Austin towns to flee their homes on January 29, “the third time since July 2017.”

The evacuees have sought shelter at the community in Kilomeer 9, Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, the group said.

“The past weeks had been terrifying for the lumad as the military were in their farms since January 8 and have been directly harassing them and threatening their lives, making it difficult for them to tend their farms and earn a living,” the statement said, adding that “at least 10 cases of threat, harassment and intimidation have been recorded.”

The statement said several residents on their way to their farms or homes “were interrogated at gunpoint and held by the soldiers,” who accused them of being members or supporters of the New People’s Army, taking pictures and listing down their names, and threatening them with retaliation of the rebels attacked.

The lumad organization Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon sa Caraga said eight Army battalions have been deployed to the Caraga region, three of these to Surigao del Sur, operating mainly in indigenous people’s and peasant communities, allegedly “so that they can eliminate opposition against the entry, operation and expansion of mining companies and plantations.” KASALO Caraga said in their statement.

The Andap Valley Complex, where the community hosting ALCADEV is located, contains rich deposits of coal which have long been eyed by mining companies.