Lumad school disputes photos of 'ambush demonstration' posted by Army officer

Jonathan de Santos - Philstar.com
Lumad school disputes photos of 'ambush demonstration' posted by Army officer
This December 2018 photo sent to Philstar.com shows a year-end program at Alcadev, a Lumad school in Lianga, Surigao del Sur
Contributed photo

MANILA, Philippines — Photos that a military official claims show a demonstration of how to ambush troops were from a skit performed by students for a school program, Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc. in Lianga, Surigao del Sur said.

In a Facebook post, Army Col. Harold Cabunoc said that the photos were proof of the "NPAzation of the lumads", or the supposed recruitment of Manobo youth into the New People's Army, a long-standing accusation against Alcadev and other Lumad schools. 

"You play the victim but you turn young Lumads into child warriors," he also said.

Alcadev: Theater, not ambush instructions

In a response to Cabunoc's post, Alcadev said the photos were taken from school programs in December 2018 to mark the end of the year and in March 2019 to mark the end of the academic year.

"The children are acting out out how two Lumad farmers, Randell and Emel, were killed in January 2019 and how the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] harassed evacuees in August 2018," Alcadev said in a post in Filipino.

Lumad schools have long been a target of the government and of paramilitary forces who say that they teach children in indigenous peoples' communities to rebel against the government. In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to have the Air Force bomb Lumad schools because "you teach nothing there but socialism and killings."

Put up to address lack of access to education in 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. 

READ: For Lumad schools, even holding class is a struggle

The Department of Education has since put up schools in IP areas like Lianga. Lumad schools were also shut down last year for lack of government permits.

In an online exchange with Philstar.com, a former Alcadev teacher who was at the events where Cabunoc said children were taught how to ambush the military sent photos from the same programs.

"Those on the right side are the children playing evacuees. Then in the middle are church people. The soldiers are on the left," the source, who declined to be identified for security reasons, said.

"This scene shows soldiers about to shoot farmers who were simply planting crops," the source also said.

Alcadev said that Cabunoc's post is proof that the military is spreading misinformation.

"They have billions in funds to spread lies. That's why Facebook took down those accounts," it also said, referring to a network of accounts and pages that Facebook said it took down for "coordinated inauthentic behavior." The network has been traced to the military and police, Facebook said in its announcement.

READ: Facebook takes down Chinese, Philippine networks due to 'coordinated inauthentic behavior' | Dela Rosa wants Senate probe into Facebook removal of networks for 'affecting freedom of expression'

Cabunoc: Photos came from former Alcadev student

But, in a follow-up post, Cabunoc insisted that the "disturbing image of violence na yan" came from a former Alcadev student who said the school was "turning them into NPAs."

"You teach hatred towards the government, protest rallies and skits to recruit for the NPA," he also said.

"Face legitimate Lumad leaders there like Datu Jumar Bucales and Datu Rico Maca," Cabunoc also said.

Bocales has been linked to the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group blamed for the killings of Emerico Samarca—executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development—and IP leaders Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo in September 2015. Alcadev also commemorates the killings in its skits.

RELATED: Datu in Uson video tagged in Lumad killings, IP group points out

In 2018, Lumad groups said Bocales is a claimant for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim in the Andap Valley Complex, one of the areas that the government is eyeing to open up to mining despite decades of opposition from Lumads like Manobo group Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU, or Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation).

Mining on ancestral land requires Free, Prior and Informed Consent from the IP group holding the land, a situation made complex by disputes over who stands as the legitimate representative of a tribe or IP group.

In a 2018 interview, Carlos Conde, a researcher for Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, the land disputes are part of a dynamic where "Lumad communities often suffer from the military's abusive presence, which makes them more susceptible to recruitment by the NPA. The military, in turn, accuses the rebels of exploiting the Lumad and taps them to fight the NPA."





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