Agta school seeks gov’t recognitionBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Like any other children in the country, young Agta people in the Sierra Madre mountain range go to school to continue their quest for knowledge. And like any other public school, the Sentrong Paaralan ng mga Agta (SPA) also lacks books and other basic learning tools.
Nestled deep in the forests of northern Quezon, the SPA has yet to be recognized by the Department of Education (DepEd) as it relies on the kindness of religious people and other Good Samaritans for survival.
“We will again depend on the generosity of our regular donors to fulfill the school’s task for the whole year,” Wilma Quierrez, an Agta and school principal, said in a phone interview on Monday.
The SPA, an alternative school of learning, was created by the Tribal Center for Development (TCD) and the Catholic Prelature of Infanta in 1987 in the mountain village of Catablingan in General Nakar town.
Quierrez, 43, who completed a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education degree at a community college in Infanta town, is steering the SPA toward its aim of providing young Agta with basic education.
Uphill, bumpy ride
She is helped by four teaching “facilitators,” three of them natives. Two are college graduates while the other two are SPA graduates. They regularly receive “little” monthly honorariums from sponsors.
Barangay Catablingan is a half-day hike from the town proper. It may be reached by an occasional tricycle ride that costs P350 for six passengers on a half-hour uphill, bumpy route.
The SPA’s three-classroom building was built from funds given by the TCD and the Church and bayanihan-style Agta labor, Quierrez said. Before, religious laymen and other volunteers had been teaching the children in makeshift huts under shady trees.
Last year, the total school population reached 204, of whom 108 were in the main school in Catablingan and the rest in four “community learning centers” found in different tribal villages. This school year, Quierrez said the SPA has yet to complete its list of students as “we are still finalizing the curriculum.”
She said the school had not received a single centavo from the government. “The concerned government agency told us we should not expect funding because we are not recognized by the state.”
Ramcy Astoveza, an Agta leader and TCD director, said the tribe’s pleas for government help have fallen on deaf ears “on the pretext that our school lacks recognition.”
“So why not recognize the school?” he said.
After some graduates passed the “accreditation and equivalency test” given several years ago, the SPA was able to receive teaching modules from the DepEd through its Alternative Learning System. The curriculum was designed for multigrade teaching and the class was divided into various levels of competent and learning skills.
“But there was no funding and other forms of assistance from the government—national, local or provincial,” Quierrez said.
She was grateful to the Camp Nakar-based Army’s 4th Light Armor Battalion (LAB), which chose the SPA as one of the beneficiaries of its “Project Shoebox.”
Lt. Col. Thomas Sedano Jr., head of the unit, said the distribution of shoe boxes stuffed with notebooks, pads, pencils, crayons, erasers, books and personal care items like face towels, combs and slippers would kick off in the SPA next week.
It would reach out to 52 other schools in Southern Luzon, Sedano said.
“For the first time, we will receive some kind of material assistance from the government,” Quierrez said.
SPA graduates who want to take up higher studies in the lowlands are still required to take and pass the accreditation tests to qualify despite the certificates issued by the SPA.
“Some of our graduates are now college and high school scholars. Their school expenses are being shouldered by their sponsors,” Quierrez said.
Franciscan missionary Fr. Pete Montallana, an advocate of Sierra Madre protection and defender of the Agta tribe, said the long years of isolation, poverty and exploitation of the indigenous people by the lowlanders had resulted in their lack of interest in education.
He saw hope, however, for a bright future as Education Secretary Armin Luistro has been focusing on the need to give state recognition to the alternative learning system of the indigenous people.