Ian, not his real name, sits still as he narrates how he and his classmates, eager for their class to start, decided to fetch their schoolteacher. On their way, however, military officers stopped them.
Little did Ian know that he will be forced to stay in the military detachment for the next seven days… along with the constant fear and worry that he might not be able to get out of there alive.
Ian is among the indigenous peoples (IPs) in Kapalong, Davao del Norte who fled to UCCP Haran for shelter. He is just seventeen.
He is not the only student from the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (Misfi) Academy who experienced such traumatic events. There are others who also shared their experiences with some of the military officers stationed in their area. Like Ian, most of the experiences they narrated, if not all, are things children should not even encounter.
IP pupils: militarization victims?
“Nagtagbo unta ko sa maestro namo sa Sitio Kapatagan… Pagka-abot namo sa Kapatagan, wala pa man ang among maestro, gihulat namo’g mga duha ka oras. Wala pa man gyud. Naa may detachment sa Sitio Kapatagan. Pagka-[kita] sa amo, gikuha dayon mi. Upat mi kabuok (I was supposed to meet our teacher at Sitio Kapatagan. When we reached Kapatagan, the teacher had yet to arrive, so we waited for around two hours. No teacher arrived after that. There was a military detachment in Sitio Kapatagan. Upon seeing us, the soldiers took us. There were four of us),” Ian said.
When asked about who got them, he replied, “Ang mga sundalo. Naka-uniform. Naay mga pusil nila (The soldiers. In uniform. With their firearms).”
Ian added that they explained to the military officers that they were waiting for their school teacher. However, he said that the military officers did not seem to believe them. This is one of the recurring scenarios in the narrations of Lumad children who are victims of militarization in their place.
According to Ian, five military officers surrounded them before his two other companions were sent back to their homes while he was ordered to stay in the detachment.
“Gitusok pa gyud ug ballpen akong ilong (The soldier even pricked my nose with a ballpen. They brought us to the hill, at the detachment. They said that we are intelligence officers of the New People’s Army),” Ian said. “Gidala jud mi didto sa babaw. Sa detachment gyud. Nag-ana pa gyud ang mga sundalo na intelligence daw mi. Intelligence daw mi sa New People’s Army,” he added.
Being tagged as an ally of the NPA, Ian’s life was suddenly put in danger.
“Ana pa gyud sila [military officers] na ‘Di ka karon mutug-an patyon ta gyud ka ba (They told us that if I won’t confess, then they will kill me)’” Ian said, explaining how the officers were forcing him to confess that he is part of the NPA despite repeatedly denying such allegations.
Ian explained that he even defended himself by saying, “Sir, bisan pa’g patyon jud ko ninyo karon. Musugot man ko’g patyon basta, ang akoa, nagtug-an gyud ko’g maayo.”
According to Ian, several threats followed. He mentioned that, to scare him, a rifle was even cocked in front of him. He said that a military officer even told him “Nindot gyud ka patyon ba kay dugay na baya ko wala kapatay [ug] tao.”
Furthermore, a knife was sharpened in front of him. “Diha pa gyud gibaid sa akong atubangan. Gipakita gyud nila sa akoa nga gibaid ang kutsilyo kay para mudulot daw sa akong liug. Nag-kurog gyud ko ato. Hadlok gyud kaayo ko ato,” Ian expressed.
Ian said that after his mother talked to the military officers, showing them his notebooks and his uniform to convince the officers that Ian is indeed a student, he was released from the detachment.
“Gibaharan pa gyud ko nila na [kung] dili daw ko nila makit-an sa sulod sa isa ka bulan sa ika-duha nga beses, pasabot nga nagsulod na daw ko sa New People’s Army (They even warned me that if they won’t see me two times in a month, it means that I already joined the New People’s Army),” Ian mentioned.
But he confirmed to them that he will not engage to the said organization, for he is still studying.
Jane [not her real name], a 15-year-old Grade 5 student, shared that she was harassed by some members of the Alamara. The Alamara is a paramilitary group who is said to include IPs and operate in hinterlands, bringing high-powered arms given and supported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Gisugo ko sa among maestro na papaliton ug bugas sa Sitio Patil,” Jane narrated.
On their way back to their place, she said they were stopped by the Alamara. “Nag-ana ang Alamara nga ‘Maghunong sa mo diha kay tan-awon namo inyong gi-dala kung mga gamit ba sa mga rebelde o mga tambal ba para [ihatag] sa rebelde.’ Wala na mi naghunong kay layo pa ang among lugar. Baktason pa namo.”
Jane said that after they refused to stop, the Alamara fired a 45-caliber and a 12-caliber rifle.
“Hapit man gani ko maigo,” Jane said.
According to her, no one was physically harmed but the gunshots really frightened them.
Ben, who was with Jane that time, had a separate experience with the military officers. He said that while they were on their way to fetch their teacher in Tagum, they were stopped by military officers and some members of the Alamara. There were 39 of them with him, all students, according to Ben.
He added that they were brought to Asuncion and were investigated by the military officers. According to him, the military officers convinced them not go to Tagum anymore. He said that they were sent back home no matter how much they insisted that they wanted to fetch their teachers.
“Ang gibuhat nila sa amoa, gihasi mi ug maayo,” Ben expressed.
No more a ‘zone of peace’
A peaceful zone, a school is an institution that is supposed to make students feel secured and safe. Ben, however, said that this is not what they experience at Misfi Academy.
“Ang mga Alamara, samtang nag-klase mi, diha sila nangatulog sa among eskwelahan. Ilang mga armas gipa-atubang sa amoa samtang ga-klase mi,” Ben said.
He mentioned that members of the Alamara also accused the school that the subjects being taught there will train students to become rebels.
“Ang among eskwelahan sunugon kay skwelahan sa rebelde,” Ben said, describing how the Alamara treat their school.
He added that their teacher is also tagged as a member of the NPA, like how students in the school are labeled as rebels.
“Kung musubida among maestro ilang atangan kay dili sila gusto na musubida among maestro,” Ben said.
A report from Bulatlat.com mentioned that Department of Education Davao del Norte Division ordered to close the IP schools in the area.
Ben also said that the military officers prohibit them from staying long in their farm, for they will be tagged as NPA by doing so.
“Kung muadto mi sa uma, i-charge mi na magsuporta mi sa NPA. Kung muadto mi’g uma, limitado mi’g oras, kung dili mi kauli ana nga orasa kay muingon gyud sila na gasuporta mi sa NPA,” he said.
Their right to education
“Kaming mga lumad dugay na gyud mi nangayo’g edukasyon,” Ben expressed. “Imbis na nalipay ta nga nay eskwelahan nato, ing-anaon pa gyud nila.”
He said that their teachers sacrifice a lot to teach them how to read and write, and he wished that the military would refrain from interfering.
He added that they had been asking for a school from the Department of the Education but their request was not granted, and now that a school was given to them, it is tagged as an NPA school and is ordered to be closed.
“Kaming mga lumad, gusto namo nga makab-ot namo ang pag-maestra sa among lugar aron makatudlo mi sa isig ka Lumad sa among lugar,” Jane said.
“Hinaot nako na dili na magpanghasi ang mga Alamara sa amoa. Hinaot nako na ang mga sundalo dili na mandakop sa mga estudyante,” Ian expressed.
Until now, the three pupils, like most of the IPs in Kapalong, are still wishing that their school will not be closed or burned down because it’s their only chance to learn, their only chance to be educated.