This young Lumad is a student of an indigenous school set up in Mindanao by indigenous peoples groups in tandem with non-government organizations like the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV). In 2015, thousands of Lumad residents evacuated the community of Han-ayan in Lianga, Surigao del Sur when paramilitary forces killed ALCADEV’s director and two Lumad leaders. In June 2017, they were again forced to leave their ancestral lands with the intensifying militarization of Lumad communities, including Han-ayan, under the Duterte administration.

Immediately after Duterte’s State of the Nation Address on 23 July 2017, he called a press conference and declared that he will bomb and destroy Lumad schools, emboldening paramilitary and State security forces in further committing human rights abuses against the Lumad peoples. The government has so far failed to provide basic social services like education for Lumad communities, and when Lumad children start to flock to schools run by NGOs, the government threatens to close them down or even destroy them.

What Duterte is commanding his military forces is nothing short of ethnocide against the Lumad peoples. It is then no wonder for me why many of the Lumad join armed revolutionary groups that offer them hopes of liberation and real development for them and their children. Because the government can give them only chaos and destruction and death.

Early on, in their tribes and schools, these children were taught the importance, nay, the necessity, of defending their ancestral lands and their tribes from abuses committed by the military and other government-sponsored forces as well as encroachment of greedy corporations hell bent on exploiting the abundant natural resources that can be found on indigenous lands. They were also taught to stand up for their rights and for what they believe in. This is what they stand for, this is what they’re here for.

These children can only do so much, however. We need to add our voices to the chorus of protests against the continued attacks on these children, their communities and their schools. These children are tenacious; I have seen them return yearly during the Lakbayan, and I know they will not stop struggling for their right to education and their right to a peaceful community.

And neither should we.

(Photo by Mark Ambay III)

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