I have a very bright and inquisitive 16-year old nephew. He plans to graduate from high school two years from now (he was supposed to finish high school this year, but the new K12 program caught up with him), take a science-related course or music (he still hasn’t decided), and then take on the world with a relish only people his age have. I smile as I imagine what he can become.
And then I grieve. Not for my nephew. He has it practically made, lucky him.
In the 2015 Philippine Education for All Review Report, the Department of Education stated that three out of ten primary school students will not finish their elementary studies, while another three out of ten will not finish high school. Now I don’t know the statistics for college enrollment and graduation, but I think we can all guess the possible results.
And this is the reason for my grief.
In April 2014, hundreds of lumads from several municipalities in Mindanao were displaced from their homes due to increasing presence of soldiers in their barangays. The targets of the soldiers, it seems, are the schools set up by several well-meaning NGOs under the Salugpungan Ta’tanu Igkanugon and the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation. These NGOs, with assistance from the community leaders and the children’s parents, built schools in far-flung barrios that the government cannot or do not wish to provide schools with. The teachers themselves have to trod for several hours on difficult terrain just so they can give these lumad children an education that can offer a minuscule glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak future.
In another incident, the Executive Director of ALCADEV, another NGO in the Caraga Region and two of his associates were brutally murdered in front of dozens of witnesses, including women and children. The murderers were positively identified by witnesses as members of a para-military force called Bagani (the para-military forces in the Davao Region are known as Alamara) under the Philippine Army, yet not one of the perpetrators have been caught and gone to trial over the incident.
Last year, Congresswoman Nancy Catamco along with a hundred members of the Philippine National Police and the Almara unsuccessfully forced the lumad evacuees in the United Church of Christ on the Philippines (UCCP) Haran compound in Davao City to return to their homes in the mountains. The lumads put up a fight, and succeeded in driving away the “teary-eyed” (read: hypocritical) Catamco and her bodyguard. This incident garnered international attention, with the UN Special Rapporteur pointing at government forces as the reason why the lumads were forced to move out of their homes.
Just last February, the same Haran compound was torched by still unidentified men. Luckily, no one was hurt, but speculation points to the involvement of government forces in the incident.
This is what I don’t understand. Here, you have a non-government organization whose dedicated members give their time, energy and passion to teach the lumad children (and their parents; they have adult literacy classes) how to read and write and count. Why must the government kill them? They should not be murdered; they’re heroes, they should be deified!
Still on the same side, you have lumad parents whose only wish is for their children to be able to get an education, and you have lumad children who have the same dreams for themselves. Why should the government and its soldiers scare them away from their schools? Why must the government close down these schools in the first place?
On the other hand, you have the government and its Education for All program that supposedly aims to achieve universal education for all Filipino children. The above-mentioned report even went so far as to state that it seeks to obtain “non-government organizations’ and private entities’ assistance” in order to achieve its plan of universal education. Yet why does it target and close down non-government schools who are after the same thing?
I read that the reason why the government is closing down these schools is because they are breeding grounds for future members of the New People’s Army (NPA) or are funded by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). I find these claims quite flimsy. These are registered non-government organizations; it’s quite easy to verify these claims simply by checking their financial accounts. And what, are the teachers in these schools carrying guns? Are these teachers giving martial lessons to their students? Are the darned villages displaying badges and flags of the CPP? It’s one thing for the government to fight its anti-insurgency war, but it’s entirely preposterous, not to mention illegal and inhumane, to involve civilians in that war.
So I grieve. I grieve for all these children whose opportunity to go to school was lost to them. I grieve for all their parents, whose dreams were shattered by government ineptitude, callousness, corruption, and self-serving interests. I grieve for all the bright futures that may never come to pass, all because the government is hell-bent on destroying the seeds of these bright futures.
I think of my nephew. Yes, he’s lucky; he practically has it made. He’s got a bright future; he’ll take on the world with a relish only people his age have. And then I think of those other children, the ones who are even now being denied that same bright future and what they can possibly become.
And then, I realize, it’s no longer enough to simply grieve.