Tribal teachers in Mindanao seek church sanctuary

Group appeal for help after accusing Philippine military of trying to arrest them during a parent-teachers meeting
Tribal teachers in Mindanao seek church sanctuary

A tribal youth from Mindanao joins a demonstration in Manila in February to protest the reported attacks on tribal schools in the southern Philippines. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

A group of six tribal teachers in the southern Philippines sought sanctuary in a parish church in Surigao del Sur province on June 20 after accusing soldiers of trying to arrest them.

Father Raymond Ambray, head of the social action center of Tandag Diocese, told ucanews.com that soldiers tried to take the teachers to a military camp. 

"We heard news about human rights workers, teachers, and priests being killed because of their advocacies. We do not want another case like that to happen," said the priest. 

He said Bishop Raul Dael of Tandag instructed members of the clergy in his diocese "to provide sanctuary to people and prevent the spread of a culture of violence and intolerance." 

The teachers, who work for the non-government Tribal Filipino Program in the province, were holding a parent-teacher meeting in a village school when the soldiers arrived.

Tandag Diocese was instrumental in establishing the tribal Filipino education program in hinterland villages in the 1970s.

"We were brought to the village hall for questioning after they halted the meeting," said teacher Arle John Enriquez.

Enriquez said the teachers were told to stop teaching tribal people. "The soldiers insisted we should close our school," he said. 

The military earlier accused the teachers of being communist rebels who were teaching "subversive ideology" to students. 

During the meeting, an army official ordered that the teachers be taken to the local military headquarters for "questioning."

To avoid an "interrogation" by the military, the teachers contacted the diocese to ask for assistance and protection, Enriquez said.

Military spokesman Major Ezra Balagtey denied the claims.

"Our troops were there to assist the village council and mediate a disagreement between parties," Balagtey told ucanews.com.

The military official said they received a complaint about the teachers and the tribal school, adding that no arrests were made during what was a "peace-building effort."

Father Ambray, however, said if there was a misunderstanding among the civilians, the village council could have intervened, not the military.

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"The military are not allowed inside the premises of any school. This was a clear act of intimidation," he said.

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