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Hands off our schools, troops told

Military presence is not welcome, say protesters

Tribal youths demonstrate outside the Defense Ministry Tribal youths demonstrate outside the Defense Ministry
  • ucanews.com reporter, Quezon City
  • Philippines
  • September 12, 2012
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Indigenous people, human rights and religious groups descended on the Department of National Defense in Quezon City today to call for the immediate pullout of soldiers from schools in tribal communities.

Waving flags and banners, at least 100 protesters denounced what they called the "militarization" of tribal communities.

The government has repeatedly said the presence of soldiers in rural communities is necessary to ensure "peace and development," especially in remote areas.

However, the protesters say their presence is repressive, unwelcome and not in the interests of local people.

"Even schools have been branded ‘rebel schools’ or 'red schools' and have been taken over by soldiers," said Piya Macliing Malayao, spokesperson for KAMP, the National Federation of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines.

She said soldiers have been using schools in remote villages as temporary bases during military operations.

"The ‘red-tagging’ of organizations, school teachers and tribal leaders, are meant to justify attacks... that benefit so-called development projects on indigenous peoples’ lands," Malayao said.

She said tribal leaders in various communities around the country who oppose the entry of logging and mining operations in their areas have been accused of being communists and the areas labeled "communist hotspots."

Beverly Longid, president of the tribal people's Katribu Party, meanwhile, called on the government to recognize schools in villages that were set up by religious groups and NGOs.

The alternative schools teach indigenous languages, traditional songs and dances, customs and values, Longid said.

"The government should recognize these instead of accusing the schools of being rebel fronts," she added.

According to KAMP, at least 151 tribal people have been victims of extrajudicial killings since 2000, more than 17 of them in the past two years.
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