Another ‘lumad’ school tagged Red, ordered shut
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—A school for lumad children named after a murdered Italian missionary priest has been ordered closed amid suspicion it is being used by communist guerrillas as a breeding ground for new rebels.
The Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in the village of White Kulaman in Kitaokitao town was ordered closed by the village chief for its alleged links with the New People’s Army (NPA).
The order to close the school was issued by Felipe Cabugnason, village chief of White Kulaman. The order, telling school officials to voluntarily shut the school down or be forced to do so, was received by school officials on Thursday.
The order gave school officials two days to shut the school down.
The school, run by the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI), was named after the Italian Roman Catholic priest, who was gunned down inside his parish compound in Arakan town, North Cotabato in October 2011. The murder case is unsolved.
Evelyn Cabangal, math and science teacher at the school, said the village chief wants the school closed supposedly for lack of a permit to operate from village officials and because it is a “threat” to peace and order in the community because of its alleged links with the NPA.
Cabangal said village chief Cabugnason also accused school officials of not paying for the lumber used to build the school.
Cabangal quoted Cabugnason as saying that “failure to comply with the said order within the time frame given would lead to the barangay council, together with the people in our barangay, going to where the school is located and we will automatically close the school.”
The order, dated Oct. 1, was addressed to Percinita G. Sanchez, MISFI executive director.
Cabangal said school officials were surprised at the village chief’s order because Cabugnason had supported the school’s application for Department of Education accreditation last year.
Cabangal said the school has complied with all requirements for a school to operate legally.
The school, she said, was opened following a request from the local farmers’ group, Naghiusang Mag-uuma sa Barangay White Kulaman, for a school in the village as the nearest school is “too far away.”
An hour’s hike from Kitaotao, the MISFI school has 55 Grades 7 and 8 students, all of whom are not charged tuition and other expenses.
The school also serves as a “boarding high school.”
Most students are lumad and children of indigent Bisaya and Ilonggo settlers, Cabangal said.
White Kulaman is the same village, where about 200 helicopter-borne police and Army troopers arrested 13 persons suspected of being communist rebels or supporters on Aug. 26.
All those arrested have been released after a court dropped charges of rebellion and illegal possession of firearms against them.
Christopher Ablon, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) priest and Karapatan Northern Mindanao region secretary general, decried the village chief’s closure order and said branding the school as “a school of the NPA” would justify the harassment of its teachers and students.
Ablon appealed to Lorenzo Giwalan, mayor of Kitaokitao town, and the municipal council to help the school “as we fear for the safety of the students and teachers.”
On Sept. 1, three lumad were also killed in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur province when militiamen raided a lumad school which had also been tagged as a communist front.
Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, confirmed that the military continues to conduct counterinsurgency operations in the village of White Kulaman.
Martinez said the mayor of Kitaokitao and the village chief of White Kulaman are the ones who had asked the military to stay in Kitaokitao.
“The people themselves did not want us to stop because they fear the NPA,” said Martinez.
Martinez also said the Army should not be blamed if students of the lumad school failed to attend classes. “The reason is they, too, fear the NPA,” he said. Inquirer Mindanao
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