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DepEd vows protection vs attacks on IP learners

MANILA, Philippines — Following criticisms over its supposed inaction on attacks against lumad schools in Mindanao, the Department of Education (DepEd) reiterated on Tuesday its commitment to protect all learners, including those from indigenous peoples’ (IP) communities.

“DepEd maintains and honors its commitment to leave no learner behind and to provide quality, relevant, accessible and liberating education in an environment where learners and personnel alike are safe and nurtured,” the government agency said in a statement.

“The department has and will never condone activities that imperil the security of its learners, teachers and personnel, and enjoins all education stakeholders to commit in enforcing the same,” it added.

DepEd issued the statement after children’s rights advocates held a protest at its central office the other day to call on Education Secretary Leonor Briones to act on the supposed cases of military attacks against lumad community schools in Mindanao.

Save Our Schools (SOS) Network spokesperson Renita Malundras said Briones failed to address the continuing violation of the rights of IP students, including the closure of 39 lumad schools under the present administration.

“Secretary Briones should be ashamed of herself for being inutile for the past 16 months in her office while the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continues to violate lumad children’s right to education,” Malundras said.

“This coming Universal Children’s Day, on Nov. 20, is the perfect time for her to act and stand beside the lumad children and uphold their basic right to education.” Malundras added.

The children’s rights advocates urged Briones to rescind a department order that sets the protocol and guidelines on the military’s requests for access to schools inside conflict zones.

“It provides blanket protection to state forces as they attack lumad schools and their communities. Why is Secretary Briones so afraid to scrap the memo? Is there any conspiracy between the AFP and the DepEd to forcibly close community schools?” SOS Network Southern Mindanao’s Rius Valle said.

In its statement, DepEd declined to address calls to rescind the controversial memorandum, but instead highlighted different efforts that it has undertaken to ensure protection of the IP children.

“Since her appointment, Secretary Briones has been campaigning — nationally and internationally — that all schools in the Philippines must be respected as zones of peace,” the agency said.

“Talks with different agencies on the adoption of the United Nations’ Safe Schools Declaration resulted in the DepEd securing the agreement and commitment of the Department of National Defense, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Council for the Welfare of Children to sign the declaration in support of the education agency’s advocacy to protect schools and children from armed conflicts,” it added.

DepEd is also in close consultation with community leaders of various indigenous groups on securing permits for schools with IP learners.

“Inclusive education is and will always be the core mandate and advocacy of the Department. Its efforts encompass learners from all marginalized and vulnerable sectors, whose biggest chance at a better life is to have quality basic education in a safe and nurturing environment. To purport that efforts of the main agency tasked to deliver this efficiently and effectively may be wanting, especially to indigenous learners, is a clear manifestation that contribution and cooperation of stakeholders with DepEd are all the more needed,” the DepEd said.

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