By Chad Booc, Spokesperson, “Save Our Schools” Campaign (18th October 2020, Melbourne, Australia)
Lush green forests, flowing rivers, fertile soil, diverse flora and fauna — such is the abundance and richness of the Lumad’s ancestral lands in Mindanao. Apart from what is seen by the naked eye, these indigenous territories are known to be rich in mineral resources.
Caraga region in Mindanao, home of Lumad schools ALCADEV (Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development) and TRIFPSS (Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur), is known as the Philippines’ mining capital. 25 out of the 50 mining companies in the country operate in the region, and more companies are raring to explore and operate since the region is rich in gold, silver, copper and coal. In Andap Valley Complex alone, one of the ancestral domains in Surigao del Sur, at least 18 mining companies want to get in.
However, the Lumad are resisting. And this is exactly why Lumad schools like ALCADEV and TRIFPSS were built — to defend their ancestral lands from exploitative and destructive foreign mining companies. The Lumad organized themselves, and with the help of the church people, they built their own schools. The Lumad education focuses on defending and enriching their lands, which is why their main core subject is agriculture. Students are also taught about human rights and how to stand up for their right to education, land and self-determination.
Due to the people’s resistance, mining companies, like Benguet Corporation, have a hard time in getting what they want. The Lumad schools and organization MAPASU (Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod) have successfully defended their lands for around three decades now. With this, they have become targets of state-sponsored attacks.
One of the most brutal attacks happened on Sept. 1, 2015 when a paramilitary group, Magahat-Bagani, along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) troops, massacred the Lumad leaders right in front of the community. They killed MAPASU Chairperson Dionel Campos, tribal leader Datu Bello Sinzo and ALCADEV Executive Director Emerito Samarca. The murderers left with the words, “If you only allowed mining companies to enter, this would not have happened to you.”
These incidents do not just happen in Lumad communities of Caraga, it happens all over Mindanao and the whole of Philippines. Things have worsened when Rodrigo Duterte became President since he explicitly stated that he wanted mining, logging, and agro-industrial corporations to enter Lumad’s ancestral lands. He placed Mindanao under Martial Law from 2017 to 2019 and recently signed the Terror Law. Since then, forcible occupation by the military has become so frequent with systematized attacks against the Lumad schools and communities, committing human rights violations against the people.
Save Our Schools (SOS) Network, a network of advocates for the Lumad schools, has documented a total of 1,030 incidents of state-sponsored attacks on schools and communities which victimized around 100,000 people under the Duterte administration. The government through the Department of Education (DepEd) and the AFP has already closed down 176 schools, disenfranchising 5,500 students of quality and accessible education.
Despite the pandemic, attacks ensue against the Lumad. In fact, they capitalize on the imposed lockdown and the decreased mobility of people. Several leaders and teachers face trumped-up charges. Aerial bombardment persists, as well as military encampment, illegal arrests, red-tagging and terrorist-tagging.
Despite these unending attacks from the state, the Lumad continue to defend their ancestral lands with whatever is left of their democratic space. This situation only calls for greater solidarity among the different sectors of the society, not just in the Philippines but around the globe.
We call on the support of the international community to stand with the Lumad and their struggle!
We need to defend the ancestral lands! We need to defend the defenders!
We need to fight against the system that preys on the marginalized! We need to end imperialist plunder!