We Shall Fight Them in the Elementary Schools

The Phillipine Army is still fighting the Cold War–in the island nation’s schools–as this article from Bulatlat makes clear. Counterinsurgency officers make regular-and apparently illegal-visits to elementary and high schools to inveigh against communists and leftist political parties. Military units are also accused of setting up camp on the grounds of informal schools in underserved areas, to force their closure.

MANILA -The Armed Forces of the Philippines are using schools for counterinsurgency operations.

The Department of Education’s Schools Division Superintendent Mary A. Lang-ayan issued a memorandum on June 26th to the heads of all public elementary and high schools in Baguio City. The memorandum read: “The Charlie Company of 5th Civil Military Operations Battalion… in coordination with the Department of Education will conduct a counterinsurgency campaign, a one hour symposium, in all public elementary and high schools in this Division…This is to enhance students’ consciousness about the lies, deception and clandestine operation of the Communist Terrorist Movement.”

The memorandum requires high school students to attend the symposium every Saturday. For elementary students, only sixth graders attend the symposium and the counterinsurgency discussion is held during their Hekasi

periods.

“It is alarming that the military is teaching young students the wrongful notion that the legal democratic movement and the communist insurgency are one and the same,” said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino. “Such acts imbue upon young minds that to be an activist, or to simply be a member of a progressive organization, is tantamount to rebellion.”

Kabataan Partylist and its member organizations, including Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students, and the National Union of Students in the Philippines, were tagged as “communist fronts” in the Philippine Army’s counterinsurgency campaign.

According to ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio, at least three Department of Education Divisions (Baguio, Cebu, and Isabela) issued memos allowing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to hold seminars where progressives are branded as communist fronts.

Chapters of Kabataan, Anakbayan and several other progressive organizations such as ACT Teachers Partylist also reported that the military instructs students to avoid joining progressive organizations.

“This is what the military does not understand – legal progressive organizations and rebel groups are very different, both in leadership and style of work,” Palatino said. He said that organizations like Kabataan Partylist are by all means legal and should not be portrayed to students as communist fronts.

“Such acts not only serve as a smear campaign for progressive groups, but also teach children the wrong notion that fighting for your rights is against the law,” Palatino said. “Meanwhile, in such seminars, the Philippine Army hails itself as the hero of the nation, and refrains from discussing the tainted human rights record of the military.”

On September 10th, Tinio, together with members of Katribu Partylist, Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran) and the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (CLANS) met with the Department of Education regarding the memos issued by three divisions.

According to Tinio, the Department of Education Undersecretary for Legal Affairs, Alberto Muyot, pledged to ban the military from holding counterinsurgency symposiums, camping at or near schools, and other acts which endanger children’s safety and right to education.

Indigenous peoples groups also reported other instances of vilification and harassment, including interrogation by the military of teachers, children, and locals, and surveillance and tagging as “NPA [Communist Guerilla] schools” or “anti-government”–of informal schools set up by communities to augment the lack of public schools under the Department of Education. “In Mindoro, soldiers encamped in the schools that tribal leaders voluntarily set up, forcing some of these schools to close,” Tinio said.

Tinio emphasized that military acts such as these traumatize teachers and children and hamper the much needed delivery of educational services, especially in far-flung areas that may go underserved by the Department of Education.

“By these activities, the government unlawfully involves teachers and children in its counterinsurgency operations,” Tinio said. “We remind the AFP of its obligations under local and international laws to respect the people’s rights to life, safety, education, and self-organization, to name a few.”

The Philippine government ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990 and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict in 2003. Under both agreements, the military is obliged to consider children and schools as “civilian objects” which cannot be used in any manner for military purposes.

Meanwhile, Muyot said the Department of Education will direct its officials not to allow any other violations of the CRC and will install quick response measures to complaints of violations of the CRC and the Optional Protocol. The Department of Education also committed to regularly meet with indigenous peoples’ representatives and Tinio and will issue guidelines for the accreditation of indigenous peoples’ schools and equivalency of the subjects taken there.

Anne Marxze D. Umil