Philippine Catholic universities help displaced children

Institutions in Manila, Cebu agree to give shelter and educate 100 children affected by insurgency in Mindanao
Philippine Catholic universities help displaced children

Students and teachers from the University of Santo Tomas welcome displaced tribal people from the southern Philippine region of Mindanao to the school campus in Manila on Sept. 10. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

Displaced tribal children from the southern Philippines have found sanctuary in two prestigious Catholic universities.

The University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Manila and the University of San Jose Recoletos in Cebu have said they will ensure about 100 children displaced by anti-insurgency operations are provided with accommodation and an education.

Dominican priest Pablo Tiong, vice rector of UST, said the church "understands the ordeal of the tribal students" whose education has been interrupted by war.

At least 60 tribal children from community schools in the southern region of Mindanao will stay in the Dominican-run seminary in Manila while taking classes at the university.

Father Tiong said the university would always be open to tribal people.

In the central Philippine city of Cebu, 32 tribal children are staying at the University of San Jose Recoletos campus of the Augustinian Recollects.

Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu has placed the children with the religious congregation as he expressed sadness over "violations and abuses" that tribal people in Mindanao face.

The prelate said their situation "should be a concern not only for our rural missionaries working in mountain villages ... but should also be ours."  

Archbishop Palma said working with tribal people is "a Catholic response to the call of our beloved Pope Francis to care for our brothers and sisters on the peripheries of society."

Volunteer teachers from both universities will work with the children.

Brother Takoy Jakosalem said learning modules will keep an "indigenous curriculum" and "psychosocial sessions" will be included to help the children cope with the trauma of conflict.

"These children and their families are currently displaced. They fled their communities to seek safety because of armed conflict in Mindanao," said Jong Monzon of the Save Our Schools Network.

The organization has documented at least 57 tribal schools that were forcibly closed because of the reported presence of soldiers in tribal communities.

Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary-general of tribal group Katribu, said the imposition of martial law in Mindanao has created more disruption to indigenous communities and tribal schools.

According to Katribu, 26,000 tribal people, including about 3,000 schoolchildren, have been affected by conflict since 2016.

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