MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 12:26 p.m.) Police in Davao City barred more than 30 students and faculty members of lumad schools in Mindanao and other adult escorts from boarding their Saturday morning flight to Manila to attend a conference of tribal learning centers at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
Lindy Trenilla, a social worker of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Southern Mindanao, told InterAksyon by phone that they arrived at the airport at 9:15 a.m. and were checking in for their 10:10 a.m. flight when police officers approached and demanded they show a travel permit from the City Social Services Development Office.
The group of 35 –aside from her there were 23 minor and three adult students, aged 10 to 17 years old, two teachers, six parents from Kapalong and Talaingod towns in Davao del Norte — were on their way to attend the first national conference on Saturday, September 16, of the Save Our Schools Network, which counts organizations that run and support tribal schools.
Over the past years, indigenous people have complained that tribal schools, especially in Mindanao, have come under attack by state forces and military-backed militias that have occupied the learning centers and their communities, and threatened or even killed teachers and students, because authorities believe they advocate support for communist rebels.
Among the more notable incidents were the September 2015 murders of Emerito Samarca, administrator of the award-winning Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development, and lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Jovello Sinzo were murdered by the Bagani militia in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, triggering a mass evacuation that displaced tribal communities for a year.
In the most recent incident, early this month, a 19-year old student of a lumad school in Kapalong, Obello Bay-ao, died of his injuries after he was shot, allegedly by militiamen, as he walked home from harvesting his farm.
Rius Valle of the SOS Network said members of Bay-ao’s family were with the group of travelers.
Despite showing a permit to travel, which Trenilla said “we were aware we did not even need but secured just to avoid trouble,” the police personnel “continued to question us, even the children, and insinuating they were going to Manila only to join rallies.”
“They even questioned staff of the CSSD who went to the airport to vouch for us and confirm that they had issued the travel permit,” she added.
Even ground staff of Cebu Pacific, said Trenilla, “took a hostile attitude towards us when they learned we were attending the SOS conference, claiming that the children were only being ‘used’.”
The lengthy questioning made the group miss their original flight, although they were eventually cleared to travel.
Instead, Cebu Pacific booked them on the next flight, which leaves Davao at 12:50 p.m.
The human rights group Karapatan in Davao said it would file charges over the incident.