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Filipino indigenous students receive needed learning boost

Classrooms are popping up closer to tribal communities to ensure children finish school
More than 3,000 indigenous peoples from the Mindanao and Cordillera regions convened at the University of the Philippines in October 2016 to demand from the government their right to self-determination

More than 3,000 indigenous peoples from the Mindanao and Cordillera regions convened at the University of the Philippines in October 2016 to demand from the government their right to self-determination. (Photo: Carlos Umali)

Published: March 22, 2023 06:11 AM GMT
Updated: March 22, 2023 08:58 AM GMT

Hundreds of students from indigenous communities on Mindoro island can hope to complete their studies with a new school building in the Philippine province located southwest of Manila.

The new two-story building with eight classrooms, constructed as part of a government project to educate indigenous youth near their ancestral domains, opened on March 20 in Oriental Mindoro province.

“We live more than ten kilometers from the nearest public school. With these new classrooms near our homes, our cost of travel is also cut… I can even ride a bike to school,” Mangyan tribal youth leader Joey Tiruray told UCA News.

With 80 percent of the students belonging to Mangyan communities like him, the 19-year-old Tiruray said many could now finish school at the new facility set up by the departments of education, and public works and highways.

Mangyan is a collective term referring to the several indigenous communities on the island.

“My parents were never educated because school was far from home. My father made an attempt but could not continue after he was bullied by a rich kid who owned a farm here [in Mindoro],” Tiruray added.

In the Mindanao region, further south, classrooms have been built for tribal communities within a 500-meter radius of their ancestral lands since 2020 and more than 70 percent of the student population is indigenous.

Tribal children of Blaan, Tboli, T’duray, Tagakaulo, Manobo, Dulangan, Tagabanwa, Erumanen Ne Menuyu, and Uyu Manobo are beneficiaries of more than 50 school buildings in Cotabato and Sulu provinces in the Mindanao region.

The 105 million pesos (US$1.9 million) invested in building classrooms has proved a blessing for more than 1,500 students, according to volunteer teacher Krina Cruz who came to Mindanao through a Society of the Divine Word program .

“We came here in 2019 from Manila … there are four of us teaching Math, Science, and English to tribal children. You’ll be surprised, many of them can already speak English fluently,” Cruz claimed.

Rachelle Diones, a 16-year-old Manobo youth member told UCA News said they go home at lunchtime and don’t need to spend money on food.

“When we were studying in the city we did not have enough money to buy food at the canteen. But here, we eat the food prepared at home by our mothers,” she said.

Gerard Hizon, an anthologist at the Sorsogon State University, said Filipino indigenous groups are “naturally communal” which serves as a hindrance for them to go to faraway schools.

“They do things on their own. They ask their children, as early as 9 years old to take care of their cows or pigs. That’s not child labor for them but a part of doing their role in the community,” he told UCA News.

Hizon said that indigenous youths like the Lumad in the Mindanao region had to abandon school because of forced migrations and safety issues.

"The Lumad, at least 2 million of them, were forced to leave their homes and education for safety because of accusation by state forces that they’re communists and terrorists,” he explained.

A number of indigenous peoples were arrested for their alleged membership in the Communist Party’s armed wing, the New People’s Army.

“Red tagging of indigenous tribal leaders has become rampant. This forced them to transfer from one piece of land to another, thus their education was sacrificed,” Hizon said citing a Human Rights Watch report in January 2023.

"Red tagging" is the classifying of individuals or organizations as a communist, terrorist or both, regardless of their real political beliefs.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference Commission on Indigenous Peoples said they were planning to donate books to the school libraries.

“We want to fill their libraries with good, quality reading material to maximize their education. Reading can induce them to stay on and finish school,” Bishop Valentin Dimoc of Bontoc told UCA News.

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