Paramilitary destroys Lumad school; leader invokes Duterte in attack

A paramilitary group destroyed an indigenous people’s school in Bukidnon Province last Wednesday, August 26, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network reported.

The Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) Academy in Sitio Laburon, Brgy. Matupe, San Fernando was attacked and destroyed by around 50 members of paramilitary group ‘Bagani’, the network said in an alert Saturday.

The group said two teachers tending to the school farm were alerted by students at around 7:15 in the morning that armed men have trespassed the school campus.

The school—repeatedly accused by government forces as a New People’s Army training facility—is 15-minutes away from the farm.

The teachers saw the paramilitary group destroying the school buildings and tearing up textbooks.  

The destroyed teachers’ quarters. (SOS photo)

“The teachers were about to take photos of the incident but were threatened by the ‘Bagani’ leader Lito Gambay, who told them to leave as President (Rodrigo) Duterte will know about this,” the SOS said.

Students and community members cried out of frustration as their school was being destroyed before their eyes, the SOS added.

The two school buildings and teachers’ cottage was built in 2007 from donations by the European Union Aid for uprooted people.

The main school building after the attack. (SOS photo)

The SOS said the ‘Bagani’ paramilitary is under the command of the 89th Infantry Battalion Bravo Company of the Philippine Army which has set up camp in Brgy. Kalagangan, San Fernando, 30-minutes away from the school.

“The Save Our Schools condemns in strongest terms the unabated destruction and closure of Lumad schools in Mindanao. As of August 2020, around 178 lumad schools are now forcibly closed,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Another view of the destroyed school building after the attack. (SOS photo)

Lumad child narrates how her mother saved her

“Nang binaril kami ng tatlong lalaki na naka-motor, tinulak ako ni mama palayo para hindi ako tamaan ng bala,” eight-year old Nene (not her real name) narrated how she survived the gun attack on May 26 at Brgy Salvacion, Trento, Agusan del Sur. (When the three men in motorcycles shot at us, mama pushed me away so I won’t get hit.)

Nene was nonetheless hit on her left shoulder while her mother, Beverly Geronimo, 27, died on the spot from seven gunshot wounds.

‘Soldiers’ kill mother, injure daughter in Agusan ambush

Just a few hours earlier, Nene and Beverly were at Trento town center, buying school supplies for the incoming school year that starts next week. Nene is an incoming grade three student of the Lumad school Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI).

Like most schoolchildren, Nene was excited about the new school year. Her school, as other Lumad schools throughout Mindanao, may have been continuously branded by the military and President Rodrigo Duterte himself as rebel schools, but it was her second home where she learns academics and Lumad culture.

Last May 26, Nene, Beverly and another relative, Lucy, were at Trento’s public market for the school supplies. Along with other items they bought, these were loaded on a “skylab”, a motorcycle fitted with wings to take on more passengers and cargo.

“We already noticed suspicious looking men on board motorcycles at the public market,” Lucy recalled. On their way home, three other riders chased them on the highway and began firing. A happy moment for the child instantly became a nightmare.

Beverly was hit at the back and Nene on the left shoulder. Lucy jumped off from the motorcycle and hid in a nearby canal. She saw the gunmen drive closer to Beverly and pumped more bullets at her.

Nene and her injured shoulder. (SOS photo)

‘Tokhangin namin kayo’

Beverly was a farmer who joined the Tabing Guangan Farmers Association (TAGUAFA) in Trento to protect their community from mining projects. She was a vocal critic of large scale mining companies OZ Metals and Agusan Petroleum.

By becoming an anti-mining activist, Beverly became a target of military harassment in the past nine years, including by the Philippine Army’s 75th, 25th, 67th and 66th infantry battalions that have been rotationally deployed around their community.

Merely two months ago, Beverly and other members of TAGUAFA were labeled by soldiers as “New People’s Army (NPA) surrenderees” in their community, a charge she vehemently denied.

Soldiers nonetheless warned Beverly that should she continue support the NPA they will come back for her. “Tokhangin namin kayo,” one military officer of the Philippine Army’s 25th Infantry Battalion warned her.

Nene recalled soldiers would go to their house to ask where her mother is. “Kapag hinahanap ng mga sundalo si mama, sinasabi ko nalang sa kanila na may pinuntahan siya,” Nene said. (When the soldiers come and asked for my mama, I said she was away.)

But Beverly was not all about her anti-mining and land rights activism. In behalf of Nene, she agreed to be elected as president of the MISFI Academy Parent Teachers and Community Association (PTCA) to become active in Nene’s school, another advocacy that earned the military’s ire.

In the past four years, Lumad school children and parents have been targets of the military’s intensified counter-insurgency campaign, especially those located in communities that resist mining operations. As members of Dibabawon tribe, Beverly enrolled Nene at MISFI that not only offer free tuition but a curriculum that respects Lumad culture.

But the military could not tolerate the insolence of alternative schools that encourages Lumad students to read and write, as well as to love and defend their ancestral lands. The Save Our Schools (SOS) network said that 56 Lumad schools throughout Mindanao have been forcibly closed, 18 schools destroyed and divested of equipment, and more than 2,000 students failed to finish previous schools year due to closure and threats by the military.

“From Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan to the current Duterte’s Oplan Kapayapaan, there is no let-up in the State’s malicious labelling and targeting of Lumad schools, teachers, students and parents as NPA fronts,” SOS said.

“Children are not even spared. If they themselves are not killed, they have become orphans denied their right to be cared for by their parents,” Salinlahi Alliance for Children secretary general Eule Rico Bonganay added.

SOS spokesperson Rius Valle said Beverly’s murder, as well as the murder of many anti-mining Lumad, is on the hands of the government. He said Duterte’s Martial Law has allowed soldiers to become law all over Mindanao.

“In Mindanao, countless lives have perished in a brutal manner in the hands of military elements,” said Valle. “For the sake of the Lumad children, this bloody campaign has to stop,” Valle said.

Beverly’s coffin. (SOS photo)

Missing her mother

Nene would not be able to attend MISFI’s first school day on Monday. Looking at her mother’s coffin, she said, “Hindi ako makakapasok sa June 4 dahil antayin ko pa si Mama,” Nene said. (I won’t go to school this June 4. I will first wait for mama’s burial.)

At her tender age, Nene is now forced to bury her mother and become one to her younger siblings, ages six and two. Already, she misses her mother. “Mabait si mama at maalaga. Magaling syang magluto ng sinugba,” recalled. (Mama was kind and she took care of us. She prepared grilled food well.)

Suddenly, Nene would have to grow up fast. In her young mind, though, it is clear who martyred her mother. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Soldiers’ kill mother, injure daughter in Agusan ambush

A week before the start of the new school year, a mother and daughter who just bought school supplies were ambushed by suspected elements of the Philippine Army (PA), killing her and injuring the child.

Gunmen, suspected to be members of the PA’s 25th Infantry Battallion operating in Agusan del Sur and Compostela Valley provinces, gunned down Beverly Geronimo, 27, who sustained seven wounds, killing her instantly in Barangay Salvacion, Trento, Agusan del Sur at about noontime Sunday, May 26.

Her eight-year old daughter, an incoming Grade 3 student of the Lumad school Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI), was wounded on her arm.

Geronimo was an active member of the Tabing Guangan Farmers Association (TAGUAFA) and the Parents-Teachers’ Community Association of the MISFI.

The victims as well as two other relatives were on board a motorcycle and on their way home from the town center after buying school supplies for the incoming school year next week.

Two gunmen in civilian clothes stopped them and fired at them, an urgent alert from the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network said.

Since 2009, Geronimo had been harassed, intimidated and coerced by Philippine Army soldiers for her opposition to large scale mining activities by OZ Metals and Agusan Petroleum, SOS said.

MISFI is a network of Lumad Schools suffering attacks from the military that accused them of being symphatetic to the New People’s Army.

Barug Katungod, an alliance of human rights workers in Mindanao, said that as of February 2018, five Lumad have been victims of extra-judicial killings in Mindanao, two coming from Agusan Del Sur.

A total of nine battalions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are deployed in the Northeastern Mindanao Region.

Due to intense military operations and aerial strikes, about 3,247 individuals have been forced to evacuate, Barug Katungod added.

In Manila, Amihan or the National Federation of Peasant Women, condemned the brutal killing.

Quoting Karapatan data, Amihan said that of the 125 farmer victims of extrajudicial killings under the Rodrigo Duterte government, Geronimo became the 21st peasant women victim.

Five children, five elderly and five farmer couples were included in the list, Amihan added.

The PA has yet to issue a statement about the ambush.# (Raymund B. Villanueva)