Lumad schools: Gov’t responsible for Grade 6 student slay
◢ Rat San Juan
It only took two shots to end a Lumad student’s dream to become a teacher.
Nineteen-year-old Obillo Bay-ao fought to reach the Davao Regional Hospital but succumbed to gunshots fired by a military agent last September 5.
Obillo was a student of Lumad school Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center (STTICLC or Salugpongan). His death is the 47th documented political killing in the Southern Mindanao Region during the Duterte administration, according to the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network, an alliance of Lumad schools and advocates for the Lumad youth’s right to education and self-determination.
Headed home, Obillo was meters away from his community at Sitio Dulyan in Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte when he was shot by Ben Salangani, a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), which is a special military unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Salangani was also seen with his cousin Joven, a known member of paramilitary group Alamara. Joven was previously held responsible for killing a 15-year-old grade 3 student in Sitio Laslasakan. The operations of CAFGU and Alamara are controlled by the 68th Infantry Battalion, said SOS spokesperson Rius Valle.
Before being killed, Obillo was farming together with his father and brother about an hour’s walk away from their village, said Valle. “Yung sakahan nina [Obillo], doon na ‘yun sa boundary ng Sitio Dulyan at saka Sitio Barobo. Ang Sitio Barobo ay well-known na may [military] detachment at nandu’n din yung paramilitary group na Alamara.”
The AFP uses auxiliary force CAFGU and paramilitary groups like Alamara to escape accountability, said a female student from a Lumad college. Despite hundreds of human rights abuse cases filed against over 1,000 members, CAFGU continues to be funded and in operation.
“Kaya sila (AFP) nag-organisa ng mga paramilitary groups kasi gustong palabasin ng AFP na [wala silang kinalaman sa mga pagpatay]. Away-tribu lang yung mga nangyayari sa komunidad ng mga Lumad [at] hindi nila kasalanan yung pagpatay kay Obillo,” the student said.
The college student and Obillo were both evacuees at the Haran Compound in Davao City back in July.
Valle explained that many Lumad communities were forced to evacuate in July after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to bomb Lumad schools, inciting panic in Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and other provinces in Mindanao. Immediately following Duterte’s open pronouncement, members of Alamara threatened to burn down Salugpongan last July 26.
The connection between the president’s words and the attacks on Lumad schools is clear, said Valle. “We hold Duterte accountable for the killing of Obillo kasi may open statement siya. May open policy siya na bobombahin, aatakihin at sisirain ‘yung mga paaralang Lumad.”
Meanwhile, the community in Sitio Dulyan remains traumatized by the series of events, having just returned from evacuation a week before Obillo was murdered, said Valle. As the slain 19-year-old was laid to rest in Talaingod on September 13, a funeral march protest was led by over 1,000 national minorities at Mendiola in Manila, condemning the killing and calling for the lifting of Martial Law in Mindanao.
Despite the continuing attacks, some Lumad students have been able to resume classes at a makeshift “bakwit school” inside UP Diliman as part of the annual Lakbayan, a three-week long solidarity camp against the ongoing militarization of indigenous schools and communities.
Obillo’s parents have travelled to Manila to demand justice for their son. Meanwhile, Obillo’s cousin, Melo Buntolan, also dreams of becoming a teacher. Both of them see the need to provide and defend the Lumad youth’s right to education.
“Sobrang kulang ng guro sa komunidad. Hindi madali ‘yung sakripisyo kasi sobrang layo at walang signal,” said Melo in Bisaya. ◢
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