MANILA—Despite the prior commitment to formally meet farmers in a dialogue to further discuss the military encampment in several schools in the Samar island, Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones did not face the farmers who stormed its office in Pasig City on March 7, Wednesday. The peasants of Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas were seeking for a discourse with the Department of Education, hoping to clinch unities on how to address the military occupation in schools of Eastern Visayas.
Farmers from Eastern Visayas claimed that military units under the 8th Infantry Division are utilizing schools as their military barracks, therefore violating the International Humanitarian Law. Other human rights cases are alleged to have been perpetrated by military officers.
“The already low-quality education in the Philippines, especially in countrysides, gets even worse due to the military presence in schools. Those public facilities are supposed to be zones of peace but our teachers and students which means no armed men should be within its premised,” said Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA) spokesperson Baby Senobio.
“Briones is lying” – Samar peasants
In a statement released by DepEd today, the agency denied contested the claims of Eastern Visayas farmers that it is being “complicit in the supposed occupation of schools by armed troops.” The farmers, however, belied that DepEd is upholding its own department order, the Do No. 44 s. 2005 which declares schools as ‘zones of peace.’
“Secretary Briones is lying and so is this agency. The mere fact that they are denying our legitimate claims without even conducting an investigation is a proof that it is not serving the interest of its very teachers and students,” Senobio pressed.
According to the protesters, eight schools are being or were occupied by armed men since 2017 until the present in the province of Northern Samar alone naming the schools of Paguite Day Care Center, Paguite Elementary School and Sumoroy Elementary School in the town of Lope de Vega and the elementary and secondary schools in San Miguel, San Isidro Elementary School and Las Navas National High School in Las Navas.
In a Facebook post of Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Eastern Visayas dated August 5. 2017, it revealed that military troops under the 20th Infantry Battalion occupied Las Navas National High Schools with their long arms and mortars vividly seen by the students. Also, members of the same military unit have reportedly bombed the school of San Miguel, Las Navas on February 22 this year and December last year.
“We have well-documented the incident in Las Navas National High School. Contrary to what DepEd is claiming, we’ve seen mortars, not computers. Aren’t they alarmed by the data we are presenting? Armed men are violating child rights by even enticing them to volunteer for their intelligence operations. Cases of sexual abuse among teachers and students have also been recorded,” claimed Sargie Macallan, a human rights worker of the alliance for the advancement of people’s rights Katungod Northern Samar.
DepEd urged to adhere to its own mandate
During the protest held yesterday right in front of the doors of DepEd, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Eastern Visayas spokesperson Joshua Sagdullas challenged the agency to uphold its own order to make schools as peace zones. However, an officer with a long-arm gun, taking photos of the protesters, was even present inside the premises of the DepEd headquarters.
“Because of DepEd’s inability to respect and actively follow its own order by means of monitoring our schools and investigating cases being reported, schools are dreading to be closed as students fail to attend classes due to the trauma from military’s psywar as in the case in San Miguel National High School. Sumuroy Elementary School in Lope de Vega has already been closed since March 5 last year as an effect of the intense militarization in schools and peasant communities,” Sagdullas added.
Samar farmers invite DepEd and Secretary Briones herself to the schools in Northern Samar and the rest of Eastern Visayas to check the situation of their schools and heed to the calls of their very teachers and students.