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Philippines orders permanent closure of 55 tribal schools

Critics condemn the move as an attempt to marginalize indigenous communities

Mark Saludes, Manila

Mark Saludes, Manila

Updated: October 09, 2019 04:46 AM GMT
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Philippines orders permanent closure of 55 tribal schools

Tribal children finish their studies in one of the ‘bakwit’ schools in Manila early this year. (Photo by Mark Saludes) 

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The Philippines' Department of Education has issued a permanent closure order against 55 tribal schools for allegedly teaching subversive ideologies.

The schools' operations had been suspended for the past four months on the orders of Education Secretary Leonor Briones, who said the institutions did not comply with government requirements.

In a media briefing on Oct. 8, Education Department spokesman Jenielito Atillo said an investigation had found that the schools had also violated government regulations.

He said the schools take students from their homes without parental consent, use students to generate funds, hire unlicensed teachers and operate in tribal territories without community approval.

The closures stemmed from a complaint filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon linking the schools to communist insurgents.

Maria Eugenia Nolasco, executive director of Salugpongan TaTanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc., or Salugpongan Schools, said the investigation was "one-sided."

She said investigators did not hear the schools' side. "We have been complying with every department guideline and requirement since we started our operations 12 years ago," said Nolasco.

She said her organization will look for "legal remedies" and vowed to continue holding classes in so-called bakwit schools or "evacuated schools" in temporary shelters

Nolasco said at least 1,500 tribal children are affected by the closures.

She claimed the closures are part of a government plan to "marginalize indigenous communities that oppose destructive and extractive government projects."

Ruis Valle, spokesman of the Save Our Schools Network, condemned what he described as a "cowardly act" by the Education Department.

He said the department not only "turned its back on its duty to uphold the right of children to an education" but also "became a military puppet."

Tribal rights advocate Irma Balaba, a Protestant pastor, lambasted the "collaboration and connivance" between the Education Department and the military to "directly attack indigenous communities that stand up for their right to self-determination."

Salugpongan TaTanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center was established in 2007 with the objective of giving tribal communities in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao "free, quality and culturally relevant education."

It aims to "enhance and develop" the awareness of young people "to make them act and participate in the protection of their ancestral domains so as to develop and maintain the bounty of the environment toward ecological preservation."

The Philippine military, however, claimed that the tribal schools were being run by elements of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

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