Most of the time, the stories I work on — when I get to work on any of my own — are really just prompted by my wondering about something and asking questions about these things.
The president’s threat to bomb Lumad schools — community-run schools in indigenous peoples’ communities in Mindanao — in July 2017, for example, had been bothering me for months.
Why would you threaten to bomb a school? Why, even without the threat, were these schools and the communities they are in reporting militarization and allegations of abuse by soldiers? What is so wrong in teaching people to read, write, and tend to their crops better?
Several months of thinking it over and of on-and-off online exchanges and interviews led to this piece of “slow news” — Australian journalist John Pilger defines it as stories that take longer to develop, are not tied to the daily grind, and that are rarely reported — that I hope can help explain the Lumad situation better.
Often set up in what the Department of Education calls Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas that government schools may not be able to reach, the Lumad schools provide lessons in numeracy, literacy and skills like carpentry, sewing and agriculture.
“Don’t fool me. You teach nothing there but socialism and killings,” the president said in July 2017 before the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it would not take the statement as an order.
But indigenous peoples’ education—or the Lumad schools—is not new, nor necessarily a form of rebellion. It requires, however, a shift in perspective that is, in a way, a revolution away from a one-size-fits-all curriculum.
Days after that story came out, but not because of it, residents of Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur left their homes, saying they did not feel safe with soldiers — deployed to the area to guard against the communist New People’s Army — in their communities.
Aside from the allegations of abuse and of the disruption of their daily lives since a military detachment was put up in June, the villagers are still recovering from the murders of indigenous Manobo leaders and the director of a Lumad school in 2015.
The allegations are just the latest in what human rights group Karapatan says is “a systemic, brutal and cruel persecution of an entire community [defending] of their ancestral land.“