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Authorities shut down tribal school in southern Philippines

Forced closure comes as activists demand soldiers leave indigenous villages

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: October 26, 2015 06:52 AM GMT

Updated: October 25, 2015 11:58 PM GMT

Authorities shut down tribal school in southern Philippines

Tribal people from the southern Philippines walk 1,000 kilometers to the national capital, Manila, to voice their call to stop attacks on indigenous communities. (Photo by Kathy Yamzon)

A tribal school named after a slain Italian Catholic missionary in the province of Bukidnon in the southern Philippines has been "permanently closed" after the military claimed the institution has become a "threat to the safety of the people."

Witnesses reported that the a group of men, aided by soldiers, shut down the school on Oct. 23.

"They brought crowbars and bolos (a large knife), and some of our students said they also saw some of the men bringing bows and arrows," said Junance Magbanua of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc., a church-based institution that operates the school. 

Magbanua said the incident happened at around noon, while the students and teachers of the Father Fausto Tentorio Memorial School were having their lunch break. Some 20 students and their teachers immediately fled the area out of fear. 

The school was named after Italian missionary Fausto Tentorio, who was killed by suspected members of a militia group in 2011.

"The state of impunity is now running amuck in Mindanao and we have yet to see concrete actions from the government," Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate of the Nation First party said in the Philippine Congress.

Zarate, who hails from Mindanao, claimed the closure of the school was done by a group of men led by village chairman Felipe Cabugnason with the help of soldiers. 

The military denied having a hand in shutting down the school.

In a statement, military officials said the school was "permanently closed" because it has no permit to operate and is a "threat to the safety of the people living in their [village]."

The school used to have 55 students, mostly from the Pulangiyon and Matigasalog tribes in the province.

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Nuns and students from a Catholic college in Manila join a solidarity march for indigenous people in Mindanao, who are calling for an end to attacks on their communities. (Photo by Kathy Yamzon)

 

'Forced closure'

The Save Our Schools Network, an alliance of organizations working for the education of tribal children, condemned the "forced closure and destruction of the gate" of the school. The group said armed men, believed to be soldiers, forced people at gunpoint to damage the school to make it appear the demolition was "voluntarily done by villagers."

The network said in a statement the school building was "partially damaged and was padlocked." The group reported that the men also confiscated the mobile phones and cameras of teachers and students.

The attacks against tribal schools are among the issues raised by a caravan of indigenous people that arrived in the national capital, Manila, on Oct. 26.

Dubbed as "Manilakbayan," or "Journey to Manila", some 700 indigenous people and human rights activists walked about 1,000 kilometers to dramatize their call for the immediate pullout of soldiers from tribal communities and the disarming of paramilitary groups.

Military-backed militias have been blamed for the killings of tribal leaders opposed to mining operations in the region. Activists have implicated the paramilitary group Bagani Force for the murder of Tentorio in 2011. In September, a Bagani group in Surigao del Sur province was accused of killing three people, including the head of a tribal school.

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