Red-tagged Lumad school teacher wins international human rights award

A Lumad school teacher is among this year’s recipients of the Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk for her advocacy for indigenous children’s right to education even under intense persecution from the government.

Save Our Schools (SOS) network spokesperson Jeany ‘Rose’ Hayahay is the award’s winner for Asia and the Pacific region given by Front Line Defenders in a special ceremony in Dublin, Ireland last Friday, May 26.

Hayahay was a Salugpungan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center volunteer teacher in Compostela, Davao de Oro prior to the school’s closure by the government in 2021.

The government alleged the institution and its sister schools throughout Mindanao taught ambuscade tactics against government soldiers, a charged vehemently denied by the SOS.

Human rights groups in the Philippines in turn said the government’s red-tagging of the Lumad schools is part of its long list of human rights violations against indigenous peoples’ groups in the Philippines.

Courageous rights defenders

Established in 2005, the annual Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk aims to honor the work of human rights defenders “who are courageously making outstanding contributions to the promotion and protection of the human rights of others, often at great personal risk to themselves.”

Other 2023 laureates include Olivier Bahemuke Ndoole of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for Africa, Segundo Ordóñez of Ecuador for the Americas, the Digital Security Lab of Ukraine for Europe and Central Asia, and Hala Ahed of Jordan for Middle East and North Africa.

Jeany Rose Hayahay (2nd from left) with her fellow laureates of the 2023 Human Rights Defenders at Risk in Dublin, Ireland. [Supplied photo]

“This year’s laureates are a courageous and inspiring group of people who reflect the determination, dynamism and diversity of human rights defenders (HRDs) who are on the front lines of fighting for a more just world,” Front Line Defenders interim director Olive Moore said.

“Their vital work in defense of human rights in DRC, Ecuador, Jordan, Philippines and Ukraine impacts countless people in their communities and beyond. By shining an international spotlight on their struggles and empowering them to continue their work, we at Front Line Defenders hope this Award will touch the lives of many more people on whose behalf they act,” Moore added.

Meanwhile,human rights group Karapatan said it is “ecstatic” in congratulating Hayahay, “a young Lumad teacher and a staunch human rights defender.”

“As we laud teacher Rose’s continuing work to defend indigenous people’s rights to their ancestral domain and to education, we see this recognition as a testament to her courage and that of the Lumad amid State perpetrated attacks,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay told Kodao.

“Let this award be an affirmation of this just cause,” Palabay added.

Dedicated to Chad and Jurain

In her acceptance speech, Hayahay dedicated her award to fellow Lumad volunteer teachers Chad Booc and Gelejurain Ngujo II massacred by the military along with three others last February 2022, her other co-teachers and students facing trumped-up charges as well as fellow activists and indigenous children who lost their lives in defending their ancestral land.

READ: ‘Chad Booc and 4 others were massacred’ – Save Our Schools Network

“I chose this ‘less traveled path’ because I believe that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or social status. I have seen the pain and suffering in the eyes of indigenous people in the Philippines and I am determined to do everything I can to help them, and to stand with them,” Hayahay said.

“For many years, I have been subjected to intimidation and harassment. I have been called a terrorist, my home has been raided, my mother was abducted. I face fabricated charges and I have been threatened with violence. ‘Wanted Posters’ bearing my face along with other human rights defenders were posted to intimidate me, to stop me from speaking the truth and to call for justice,” she added.

Hayahay said she will not be silenced and vowed to continue to stand and defend human rights along with other human rights defenders, even if it means living under threats to her life.

Hayahay said the Lumad, indigenous peoples groups in Mindanao are displaced from their ancestral lands, denied access to education and healthcare, and subjected to violence and intimidation.

“The Philippine government has destroyed and forcibly shut down 216 indigenous community schools and disenfranchised 10,000 indigenous learners. I used to teach them in their communities, but we were forced to mount an evacuation school in the country’s capital to bring into light thousands of human rights violations and encourage people to rally with us in defending indigenous children’s right to education,” she said.

“I am calling and challenging the international community to stand with the indigenous people and the oppressed, to speak and stand with us, to conduct an independent investigation for New Bataan 5 Massacre, and for the call to surface indigenous people advocates who were abducted last month,” Hayahay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)