(Photo from the Save Our Schools Network)

The Department of Education (DepEd) has ordered the suspension of 55 “Salugpungan” schools catering to Lumad children in the Davao Region, following the recommendation of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

Jenielito Atillo, DepEd Region 11 spokesman, said Education Secretary Leonor Briones also issued a “show-cause” order to the schools to explain their alleged links to communist rebels.

In particular, Maria Eugenia Nolasco, the Salugpungan executive director, was ordered to submit a written explanation to Esperon.

“The basis of Secretary Esperon is the affidavit executed by Melvin Loyod who is a former student of a certain Salugpungan school and eventually became a volunteer teacher in a Salugpungan school in Sitio Pongpong, Barangay Sto. Niño Talaingod Davao del Norte,” Atillo said.

“Based on Loyod’s testimony they were also taught to handle firearms, learn the techniques on how to ambush military personnel, and other actions detrimental to national security,” Atillo added.

The 55 schools were denied permits to operate for School Year 2019-2020.

The “Save Our Schools Network,” a group of education and church NGOs, immediately condemned the DepEd order for failing to follow due process, and accused the department of being a “stamp-pad of the military.”

“While they follow the military’s order of closure without basis, DepEd has failed to address the real concerns of the Salugpongan schools which we have lobbied for in the past years. In the recent months, we and the Salugpongan officers have raised concerns on how the military and paramilitary groups have forcibly closed the schools and even forced the community at gunpoint to destroy some of the school buildings in several villages in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley,” it said.

“In fact, even before the release of the suspension order only 11 of the 55 Salugpongan schools remained to be operating while the majority were totally shut down,” it added.

“We question Education Secretary Leonor Briones for her refusal to open a dialogue with the concerned Lumad schools. We question the DepEd Region 11 spokesperson for speaking in behalf of the military instead of shedding light on the plight of the Lumad schools. We are disappointed on how the DepEd serves as mouthpiece of Esperon and the Whole of Nation Approach, which perceive Lumad schools as a threat to security.”

The “Whole of Nation Approach” refers to the government’s plan to end the communist rebellion. Executive Order 70 issued in December formed a national task force, led by Esperon, to undertake local peace negotiations and lobbying. (PressOne.PH)