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Mindanao tribe holds protest wake outside govt office

Philippine protesters seek reopening of 33 schools by placing dead tribal leader's coffin outside regional education dept

Bong Sarmiento, South Cotabato

Bong Sarmiento, South Cotabato

Published: July 24, 2018 08:34 AM GMT

Updated: July 24, 2018 08:37 AM GMT

Mindanao tribe holds protest wake outside govt office

The coffin of tribal leader Pakingan Gantangan of the Dulangan-Manobo tribe is placed outside the main door of the Department of Education regional office in the southern Philippine province of South Cotabato. The tribal people said they are not leaving until their demands are met. (Photo by Bong Sarmiento)

A group of tribal people was holding a wake on July 24 outside an Education Department office in a southern Philippine city to pressure the government into reopening tribal schools and to remember a tribal leader who died at a recent protest.

Authorities have closed at least 33 tribal schools in recent months following reports that they do not have legal permits and were helping communist guerrillas.

While holding a protest in the city of Koronadal last week, one of the tribal leaders, 54-year old Pakingan Gantangan of the Dulangan-Manobo tribe, died from a heart attack.

Instead of taking his remains home, the tribal people held his wake outside the Department of Education regional office in South Cotabato province.

"We will not go home to our communities until [the Education Department] give permits to operate the schools," said Gantangan's wife, Dabao, repeating her husband's last words.

Despite the coffin being placed at the office's main door, work at the department continued with employees using side doors to enter and leave the building.

Dabao said the wake would continue until Gantangan's daughter, Jolita Tolino, can pay her last respects.

Soldiers arrested Tolino, a volunteer teacher at her community's school, earlier this year on murder charges.

"The charges against our daughter are false," Dabao told ucanews.com.

Tolino's lawyer is seeking her temporary release so she can attend her father's funeral.

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"We hope the court will allow her temporary freedom so the remains of her father can be transported and buried in their community," said Sadrach Sabella of human rights group Karapatan.

John Romero, spokesman of the Center for Lumad Advocacy, Networking and Services or CLANS, said they would not leave until their demands are met.

The non-government group had been operating the closed schools in the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani, all in Mindanao.

Romero denied reports the schools were being used to help the communist cause.

"We're operating in remote mountain areas where communist rebels have a presence, but that does not mean that we are [rebel] supporters," he said.

"We are just caught in the war between the military and the communists," Romero said.

He described Gatangan a "hero" for Mindanao tribes "for fighting until his death the fundamental right to education" for marginalized communities.

"Until his last breath he stood his ground as an advocate for education. We could do no less but to continue," said Romero.

He said about 4,600 elementary and high school children have been affected by the closure of the schools since last year.

Attacks on and harassment of tribal schools in Mindanao worsened after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened last year to bomb them for allegedly spreading communist ideology.

The non-government Save our Schools Network has documented 225 attacks on schools since last year.

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