The MALAYA event spearheaded by FAST2017 was held last November 15 at the Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall. The talk featured two speakers: Catherine Dalon, a 10th grade Lumad student, and Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Elago. The event focused on raising awareness of the situation of the Lumads and how Lasallians can help and take action.
Using one’s voice
MALAYA is a project initiated by FAST2017 in partnership with Youth Act Now Against Tyranny, which is dedicated to supporting the indigenous tribes of the Philippines. The project consisted of two events: a photo gallery and a talk. The concept of the project was said to be rooted in the batch government’s belief that marginalized communities should be protected at all costs, more so those who promote our culture.
Ronin Leviste, FAST2017 Batch President, and Anna Ongchuan, Project Head of MALAYA, shared with The LaSallian that the significance of the event is to give a voice to the marginalized society, “Given our resources as [a] batch government and more so as Lasallians, we want to be able to use what we learn in school to be able to help other people because that is the purpose of Lasallian education.” When asked about what they hoped the DLSU students could learn from the project, they said that they wished for the student body to be aware that being labeled as merely a student should not hinder one from taking initiative. “There are a lot of things you can do from your standpoint with your privilege [and] with your voice,” Ongchuan shared.
Struggles of the Lumad community
One of the foremost struggles of the Lumad community, according to Dalon, is its separation from urbanized communities, and subsequently, from adequate government services.
“Sabi nila, ‘ang pinaka-unang hingian ng tulong [ay] yung gobyerno,’ kaya humingi sila ng tulong. Pero, sa kasamaang palad, hindi po nila tinugunan yung responsibilidad nila. Hindi nila kami binigyan ng edukasyon, yung serbisyong pangkalusugan. Swerte na nga lang kung may isang doktor na makapunta sa community namin na galing sa gobyerno. Swerte na nga lang kung yung isang buntis makakapanganak sa ospital sa isang taon. Kada-isa sa isang taon. Swerte na nga po yun.”
(They say ‘the first one you should ask for help from is the government,’ so we asked them for help. But, unfortunately, they did not heed their responsibilities. They did not give us an education or health services. We’ll be lucky if there was one doctor sent by the government to visit our community, lucky enough if there was even one pregnant woman to deliver at a hospital in a year. That’s already considered lucky.)
Dalon further explained that the government’s lack of action in providing Lumad communities with proper education and healthcare has created conditions that do not allow members of the community to advance themselves. Lack of proper education has led to high numbers of illiteracy within the community, with members of the tribe unknowingly signing their ancestral lands over to land developers and foreign investors. Meanwhile, the lack of proper healthcare and facilities has led to mortalities that could have been avoided had they known the cause and treatment for the illness.
Met with dire circumstances and lack of support from the government, the Lumads decided to seek help from religious and other non-government organizations.
Because public schools provided by the Department of Education are situated in communities far from Lumad homes, they decided to establish educational institutions within their own communities. What started in the 1980s as informal education eventually gained momentum and garnered more students.
According to Dalon, Lumad schools pride themselves on being “makamasa, makabayan, at siyentipiko” or for the masses, the country, and science. Lumad schools do not discriminate against students with scarce financial resources, nor do they turn away children of alleged terrorists. “Makamasa sya kasi hindi sya pang-dayuhang interes. Kung sino yung nahihirapan, kung sino yung nangangailangan ng edukasyon, binibigyan nila. At kahit anak ka pa ng NPA (New People’s Army), kahit anak ka pa ng terorista, may karapatan kang mag-aral. Yun yung sinasabi ng teacher samin,” she explained.
(It’s for the masses because it does not serve foreign interests. The ones who are struggling, those who need an education, the Lumad schools help them. Even if you’re a child of NPA members or terrorists, you have the right to an education. That is what our teacher tells us.)
Education in Lumad schools is also grounded in what they encounter in their everyday lives and is not geared towards making workers for labor export. Lumad students are taught that education is meant to equip people with the knowledge and skills needed for them to eventually give back to their community.
Likewise, students are encouraged to be analytical of what is happening around them and to put theory into practice. According to Dalon, practical applications are given as much weight as theories. Students are taught practical skills for everyday life such as performing minor surgeries. Focus is also given on agriculture, especially since the Philippines is primarily an agricultural land. Like most indigenous tribes, the importance of being stewards of the environment is ingrained in Lumad students—the environment is their home, as well as their source of livelihood.
There has been a series of attacks and human rights abuses perpetrated against Indigenous Peoples (IP) communities in recent years. Dalon condemned the use of state forces against Lumad communities, the tagging of IPs as members or sympathizers of the NPA, and the continued propagation of the notion that Lumad schools teach students rebellion. According to Dalon, the militarization of Lumad schools has severely affected the lives of Lumad children, “Hindi lang buhay yung kinikitil nila. Pati yung mga pangarap namin.”
(It’s not just lives that they’re taking. They’re also taking away our dreams.)
Dalon, along with other members of the Lumad community, decided to leave Mindanao in order to spread awareness about the reality of what is happening in the region and in IP communities. According to her, news coverage on the true state of Mindanao and indigenous peoples is severely lacking.
In an effort to assist the Lumads, the University of the Philippines-Diliman established a “bakwit” school within their campus in 2017. Bakwit school is an alternative learning venue where displaced Lumad children can hold their classes. It now also holds classes in the University of Santo Tomas.
Elago, a member of the House of Representatives, advocated the importance of collective leadership or kolektibong pamumuno. Collective leadership centers on using the thoughts and opinions of every individual who is involved and not just those of the higher-ups. Elago said that this concept would be the best option for helping the Lumad community because it stands by the youth’s collective action.
She also presented recent events and news that are happening in the Philippines such as the Martial Law issue, Imelda Marcos’ prison sentence, Charter Change, among others. Details about the said affairs were shown briefly and Elago further explained the plans of the Congress. However, she also mentioned that we should not settle for the power and authority of those in Congress. “Hindi lang dapat sa Kongreso. We should act and speak up even outside the confines of the Congress,” she stressed.
(It should not be just the Congress. We should act and speak up even outside the confines of the Congress.)