“President Duterte is killing the dreams of Lumad children.”
These were the words of Ramel Miguel on the death of his student Obillo Bay-ao. Bay-ao, 19, was killed by two paramilitary men at sitio Dulyan, barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte, Sept. 5.
The shooting of Bay-ao is the latest in a series of attacks since President Rodrigo Duterte tagged Lumad schools as training grounds for New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas and threatened to bomb the educational structures on July 24.
Miguel himself escaped death three months ago. On June 20, while Miguel was holding classes at the Nasilaban High School, an element of the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) identified as Rodel Butanlug fired at the classroom. Miguel was able to take cover but one of his students was wounded.
Days before the shooting, Butanlug threatened the 24-year-old teacher, saying, ‘Beware. We’ll see each other in hell.’
Three days later, Cafgu members strafed the school again. When paramilitary men threatened to bomb the school, some of the teachers and students of the Salugpungan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center Inc. (STTICLCI) decided to take refuge at the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City.
Miguel and his students have joined the Mindanao delegation for the second caravan of national minorities to demand a halt to attacks on Lumad schools, which escalated since Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao.
Encamped at the Equine Stud Farm inside the University of the Philippines Diliman, Miguel yearns for their life back in Pantaron Mountain Range. Like the other teachers in Lumad schools, Miguel has been living in the community.
The 24-year-old teacher came from Arakan Valley, North Cotabato. After graduating from college and passing the licensure examinations for teachers, he left behind his parents and seven siblings and traversed five mountains to teach at STTICLCI.
Inspired by Fr. Fausto Tentorio, Miguel responded to the call of datus from Talaingod, Davao del Norte for volunteer teachers in 2013.
Tentorio, an Italian priest who served the Lumad communities, was killed outside his convent in Poblacion, Greenfields, Arakan Valley, North Cotabato on Oct. 17, 2011.
Fr. Pops would often tell us, ‘Your dreams are my dreams,’” Miguel said.
From July 2016 to July 2017 the Save Our Schools Network has documented at least 68 incidents of attacks on schools or at least one attack per week. These include cases of military occupation of schools, death threats and harassment against students, teachers and parents, destruction of school properties, and malicious branding of schools.
Still, Miguel’s spirit is sustained by his students’ dreams.
After the June 20 attack, his students embraced him and told him, “Dugang kadasig!”
With even more determination, Miguel vowed to continue helping Lumad children realize their dreams. (bulatlat.com)