Defense of the Land: Lumad Education for Resilience and Resistance

Posted on Posted in 2019-2020

Written by: Marla Torres

Photo Courtesy of Save Our Schools Network


In light of the celebration of the National Indigenous Peoples’ month last October, the Department of Education (DepEd) Region XI insisted on its resolution to permanently shut down 55 Lumad schools in the Davao Region. These schools which are owned and operated by the Salugpungan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon (which means unity in defense of the ancestral domain) Community Learning Centers were accused of indoctrinating indigenous children of left-leaning ideologies, along with other violations against DepEd curriculum requirements and other procedures (Palo, 2019). This order earned the ire of child rights advocates, such as the Save Our Schools Network (SOS), for endangering the education of approximately a thousand Lumad students. SOS argues that DepEd’s decision was purely based on the “malicious and false claims of the military,” and that the DepEd fact-finding team itself is unable to visit the Salugpungan schools for a fair investigation (Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, 2019).

One can hear misinformed comments that the Lumad students in the Davao Region can be simply admitted into basic education schools under DepEd. Note that the Lumad is a group of 18 ethno-linguistic groups in Mindanao, distinct from other Mindanaons, Moro, or Christian, and thus culturally diverse from the mainstream Filipino (Ulindang, n.d.). As a result, their Lumad education differs in some features from that of the basic education everyone is familiar with, such that it is tailored to the context of their communities.

This contextualized approach to education, grounded on social analysis, might be a contributing factor as to why Lumad education is labelled radical and “communist” in a right-wing perspective. To understand how the Lumad education in the recently closed Salugpungan schools were implemented, one could take a glimpse at the Lumad Bakwit school in the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. 

The Lumad Bakwit School

The University of the Philippines Diliman is one of the three UP campuses (the other two being UP Cebu and UP Mindanao) to welcome Lumad bakwit schools. These bakwit schools serve as the alternative learning centers of Lumad children, whose communities were victimized by development aggression and disenfranchisement in their ancestral lands in Mindanao.

In UP Diliman alone, a total of 75 Lumad students currently attend the bakwit school established by the Save our Schools (SOS) Network after the Lumad Lakbayan to Quezon City in 2017 (Rappler, 2017). The school operates from Saturday to Wednesday, with Thursdays and Fridays being the rest days as volunteer teachers, coming from other universities and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), are commonly free during Saturdays and Sundays. Since then, the Lumads have been establishing mobile camps around the campus, transferring from one location to another, every two to three weeks, depending on SOS’ arrangement with the administrative office concerned with providing the temporary living space. Teacher Jeany Rose Hayahay, a volunteer Lumad school teacher from Compostela Valley, who now works at the bakwit school in UP Diliman, mentions that until now, it is still a challenge for the bakwit school to facilitate agricultural discussions, as the mobile life disables them from tending a garden.

Last March 2019, the first batch of Grade 10 Lumad students were recognized in a moving up ceremony. For this academic year, fourteen Grade 12 senior high school students, under the General Academics (GA) strand, are set to graduate and enter college with courses related to agriculture, health, or education – the three basic development essentials of the Lumad community. 

Photo Courtesy of Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns

The Indigenous Peoples Education Policy Framework

Integral to understanding Lumad education is that although it adheres to the aims of the K to 12 Program, it takes on the additional step towards self-determination by infusing the Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSPs) and Indigenous Learning Systems (ILS) into its curriculum. As education and culture are supposedly intertwined, the Indigenous Peoples Education Policy (IPEd) Framework, by DepEd Order no. 62, s. 2011, is adopted to provide indigenous peoples (IP) children of a more “culture-responsive basic education,” which addresses their contextualized issues of self-determination and promotes their cultural heritage as progressive and not primitive. The IPEd Framework is aligned with the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 which mandates the state, through the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), to provide an “integrated system of education, relevant to the needs of the children and young people of ICCs/IPs” and recognize cultural diversity reflected in forms of exchange which includes education (Article V Section 28 & Article VI Section 31).

 “Nakaangkla sa pangangailangan ng komunidad ang edukasyon ng mga Lumad.  Hindi naman natin mailalayo ang usapin ng edukasyon at self-determination kaya we have this orientation na makamasa, nationalistic, at siyentipiko,” Teacher Rose explains. She adds that there are 3 main legs of Lumad education: agriculture, health, and academics.

[The education of the Lumad is anchored to the needs of the community. We cannot put away the matter of education and self-determination that is why we have this orientation of nationalism and being scientific.]

As the Lumad education adopts a contextualized approach in learning, academic discourse is encouraged in their respective mother tongues. In a Grade 9 economics class discussion facilitated by Sir Jun Feguro, a bakwit school volunteer teacher, it is observable how all theories are integrated into the Lumad student’s experience and practice. A class is facilitated in a participatory and student-centered manner, with the teacher being the discussion moderator who solicits for the students’ critical opinions by asking what can they say about a certain matter. 

It could be assumed that the Lumad community is given discretion on textbook usage in its schools as the IPEd framework dictates that all learning resources must be culturally sensitive and approved by Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP) holders, or the indigenous community itself, regularly. Furthermore, DepEd Program Supervisor and Learning Resource Manager Ethielyn Taqued, clarified that only members of the indigenous communities, and not DepEd personnel, could author IKSPs (Cruz, 2018). In the case of the Lumad bakwit school in UP Diliman, Ibon Foundation textbooks, according to Sir Jun Feguro, are more preferred to be utilized since they are more Lumad-specific than those provided by DepEd. This preference for Ibon Foundation textbooks is undoubtedly controversial considering how Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., a ranking official at the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC), accused the said research organization as a CPP-NPA front institution and a publisher of materials inciting sedition (Nepomuceno, 2019).

Again, the Lumads, despite being legally permitted to exercise their right to culturally responsive education, are subjected to the allegation of being communists. Nevertheless, the answer to the question of which ideology the Lumads subscribe to can be unraveled in an analysis of their insights on basic economic concepts.

The Lumad Economic Education for Community Resilience

For a Lumad student, economics is a practical course which one could use for daily decision-making and budgeting one’s limited resources. Lumad economics, as the study of resource management in one’s community or country, is not as profit-oriented, as the economics subjects that basic education schools teach. On the other side of the coin, the Lumads use economics, as a social science, to scrutinize social dynamics based on the principle, “Mayaman ang Pilipinas, pero naghihirap ang sambayanang Filipino.” [The Philippines is rich, but the Filipino masses are poor]. This principle, surprisingly, was brought up by Kat, a Grade 9 student in an Economics class of Sir Jun Feguro, implying that this particular social perspective has pervaded the Lumads’ collective notion. Consequential to this is the concept that the Philippine government has control on the allocation of the nation’s wealth and thus, a contributor to the poverty of the masses.

Photo Courtesy of Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns

According to Teacher Rose Hayahay, the Lumads’ quest for self-determination cannot be isolated from their land or ancestral domain. The concept of ancestral domains dates to the Lumads’ belief of the sacredness of land and their practice of communal land ownership since time immemorial. With such a setup, resources available in the sacred land are sufficient for private sharing within the community (Ulindang, n.d.).

Besides being important to cultural identity, land, among the three factors of production, also has the greatest impact on the Lumad economy, since the community’s lifeblood, agriculture, is  dependent on the land ownership. Therefore, pragmatically speaking, the Lumad economic education is also closely tied to agriculture. For instance, the laws of supply and demand are applied so that the agricultural production ensures community self-sufficiency. Inday Baraz, an 18-year-old Grade 12 student from North Cotabato narrates, “[Sa Mindanao], hindi na namin kailangan ng mga gulay sa palengke dahil na-susustain yung ekonomiya …namin sa pamamagitan ng agriculture.” [In Mindanao, we do not need supply of vegetables in the market because our economy is sustained already through agriculture]. Teacher Rose also shares that one common supply-and-demand question in an Economics class is how many in the community could benefit from a specific quantity of crop.

Productivity, as an economic concept, is also inculcated in the Lumad students as they develop indigenous agricultural strategies to increase produce. Teacher Rose admits that farming for the Lumads is limited to manual labor. As a result, the Lumad economic education also tackles land productivity through the application of sustainable technologies such as organic fertilizers and analysis of plant health based on IKSPs.

Mayaman ang Pilipinas, pero naghihirap ang sambayanang Filipino.”-Kat, Grade 9 student 

Are communal land ownership and an agricultural economy sufficient evidence that the Lumads are communists? No. The 1997 IPRA recognizes how this practice dates back to the precolonial age, even before Marx has developed his doctrine in the mid-19th century (McLellan & Chambre, 2019). The Lumad communities also do not intend to force the entire nation to observe communal property of land – they simply want to continue this ancestral tradition within their domains. Furthermore, IPRA Chapter III legalizes this Lumad practice, as it has even provided the formal procedures of the Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) issuance for IP territories. Given that the government firmly opposes communism and outlaws groups embracing such ideology through the Anti-Subversion Act, its passage of the 1997 IPRA means that it did not deem communal land ownership as an indication of communism.

The Lumad Economic Education as Resistance

In Sir Jun Feguro’s Economics class, scarcity is seen as a multi-layered social dilemma and has generated student criticisms of existing government policies. The students first observed scarcity in their present situation as bakwits. At times, they lack food, clothes, and school supplies, which then constrains their daily activities and prompts them to budget. 

Beyond scarcity, these Lumads also encounter poverty back in their homelands. According to Ms. Fionna Pelayo, a representative of the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, the lead convener of the SOS Network, Lumads in Mindanao experience a normalized lack of access to basic social services, particularly in education and health sectors and are considered to be one of the poorest minority groups in the Philippines (Chandran, 2018). Since their communities do not rely on a profit-based monetary system, Lumads do not have enough money to buy uniforms and are often discriminated in basic education schools due to difficulties in adjusting to the conventional culture (Victor and Yano, n.d.). Therefore, through the collaboration of children’s rights advocates and church groups, Lumad schools were built to empower IPs through education. In terms of health services, Pelayo also brings up that Lumads must endure a day’s walk to obtain checkups in clinics. To cope with the challenge of inaccessible healthcare, they depend on herbal medicine which can be harnessed in their lands.  A study by Simbulan & the Medical Action Group Inc. (2011) shows that although barangay health centers and mass media expose Lumads to knowledge on modern and Westernized medicine, many still cling onto their indigenous health and treatment systems, such as the use of herbal medicine.

As opposed to temporary shortage, scarcity is a continuous problem caused by the interaction of the unlimited human needs and wants and the limited earth resources. In the Lumad economics class with Sir Jun Feguro, two issues emerge on how scarcity aggravates into poverty. Scarcity worsens into poverty with first, the inability to manage or budget resources properly, and second, with the destructive selfish interests of the few which impoverishes the majority. In short, a particular member of society is to blame for exacerbating scarcity. This admonishing insight on this economic phenomenon might come out as an attack to the elite, who hold the political and economic power on the means of production. Ergo, the marginalized Lumads’ critique on the privileged provokes the prejudice that the former part-takes in a violent communist revolution to bring down the power base of the latter.

“[Umaasa ako] sa isang lipunang walang pagmamalabis o pananamantala sa mga mamamayan at sa gobyernong titindig sa kanyang responsibilidad para sa mga mamamayan,”  -Inday Baraz

In Sir Jun’s economics class, the students were able to cite relevant socio-economic issues to scarcity and allocation of resources. They denounced the Duterte administration’s budget cuts on education amidst resource deficiencies in classrooms and in the teaching manpower while requesting for a swelling budget of 4.5 billion pesos for the Office of the President’s confidential and intelligence funds (Punongbayan, 2019). They also argue that the immense land ownership of landlord or “panginoong may lupa” capacitates them to exploit the labor of landless farmers.

Of course, the Lumad narratives of displacement from their ancestral domains are testaments to the marginalizing effects of scarcity. The Lumad youth mentioned how their communities survive from harnessing agricultural products from nature but unfortunately suffer from mining companies who scuffle over the limited mineral resources beneath their lands and infringe on their ancestral land rights.

Teacher Rose Hayahay also alludes to the decades-long development aggression in the Pantaron Mountain Range, the home of the Philippine Eagle. Cutting across several provinces in Mindanao, the 1.8 million-hectare Pantaron Mountain Range covers 12.4% of Mindanao and is comprised of virgin forests and tributaries. Six thousand hectares of resource-abundant Pantaron land are guarded by the Talaingod Manobos. In 1993, the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon, the united front of indigenous tribes defending ancestral lands, waged a tribal war or pangayaw against the real estate developer Alcantara and Sons (Alsons) who had been logging 19,000 hectares of virgin Pantaron forests via an Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) with DENR and had been enforcing paramilitary operations in the area. Decades later, there are several mining companies aiming to extract resources from the Pantaron Range. Tensions have further risen that in 2014, the 60th Infantry Battalion from the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army launched a campaign in the Talaingod (Bautista, 2014).

The Salugpungan’s declaration of pangayaw or tribal war against the Alsons, although violent in means, cannot be regarded as a communist uprising. A pangayaw is a ritual killing by a warrior chief, which neither the NCIP nor the police or military forces have jurisdiction over. Therefore, by this definition, the state’s armed forces cannot retaliate for Alsons. Also, there are instances when tribal leaders also declare pangayaw against the New People’s Army (Mellejor, 2019).

Under Attack: The Imperialist Plunder Experienced by Lumads

The case of the Pantaron Mountain Range is a case in point of the imperialist plunder that the Lumads decry. Such may also take the form of large-scale and foreign mining, agro-industrial plantations, and legal and illegal logging concessions which all invade ancestral domains and disrupt the lands’ ecology. According to Teacher Rose and Ms. Pelayo, the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) required by IPRA, has been weaponized by capitalists against illiterate IPs, to legalize land-grabbing. On the bright side, the Lumad education fortifies their agency to protect themselves from exploitative advances and unfair contracts. With literacy, no Lumad would give up his land for a can of sardines. Ms. Pelayo reiterates that education therefore becomes a peaceful act of Lumad resistance.

In these acts of imperialist plunder, the government, being dominated by the elite, tolerates the Lumad disenfranchisement and partners with capitalists by using its state forces for a paramilitary purpose. UN Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of  Indigenous Peoples and Internally Displaced Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary reveal that as of 2017, thousands of IPs were displaced due to militarization, and extrajudicial killings of Lumad farmers and other environmental activists became rampant since President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of  Martial Law (Proclamation no. 216) to counter Islamic insurgency (ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, 2019). In May 2019, the SOS Network reported the forced closure of 79 Lumad schools, which affected 2,728 students (De Vera – Ruiz, 2019), and these figures do not yet account for the recent closure of 55 Salugpungan schools. Based on Ms. Fionna Pelayo’s narrative on the October 10 protest for the Salugpungan 55, SOS Network encountered a mobilization of SWAT team and PNP personnel in front of the DepEd’s central office.

Photo Courtesy of Save Our Schools Network

A Call for Basic Rights

It is evident that the Lumads were caught in the crossfire between the government and insurgents. Thankfully, with education, specifically economics, the Lumads, in their protests, could have the agency to exercise their democracy and rights per the IPRA provisions, which ideally, must be recognized by the state. Furthermore, according to the SOS Network, the essence of the Lumad schools, as a collaborative effort of Lumads, NGOs, and religious groups, is to provide alternative schooling for the IPs amidst the government’s shortcomings in providing education and other basic social infrastructure, and for several years, even government agencies permit these learning centers to operate. However, due to imperialist motives and the culture of impunity in Philippine politics, Lumads schools face closure due to red-tagging accusations, despite that these learning institutions are in fact, a substantiation of the Lumads’ hope for an inclusive and democratic society envisioned in the Constitution, and therefore, a contradiction of the communist ideology that they are accused of proliferating.

“[Umaasa ako] sa isang lipunang walang pagmamalabis o pananamantala sa mga mamamayan at sa gobyernong titindig sa kanyang responsibilidad para sa mga mamamayan,”  Inday Baraz, a Lumad student, expresses her hopes for a more Lumad-inclusive governance. [I am looking forward to a society which does not normalize the exploitation and abuse of its citizens and a government which would fulfill its duty to its constituents.]

The government must not alienate its minorities through the counter-insurgent whole-of-nation approach; rather, it must put a halt to the biggest threats to the Lumad community: militarization and capitalist overexploitation of the ancestral domains legally endowed to the IPs. Human capital development through sustainable social infrastructures could also safeguard Lumads from communist group recruitments, which threaten national security.

Inday ends with a call for everyone to stand up for Lumad education: “Hindi lang naman ito para sa amin, para ito sa lahat ng kabataan na deprived sa basic social services, lalo na sa edukasyon, kasi kahit sa mga lansangan, marami pa ring mga kabataan ang walang edukasyon… Kaya’t nanawagan kami sa lahat ng kabataan na magbasa ng mga balita sa social media para maalaman nila ang nangyayari sa amin at sa lipunan.” [This is not just our fight. This is a fight for all children deprived of basic social services. Even in the urban areas, many children are out-of-school. Hence, I call on my fellow youth to read and comprehend news circulating in the social media, so that they too would be enlightened of the social realities.]

Indeed, the fight for the Lumads’ human rights is not a fight for the benefit of the Lumads alone. It is a fight defending each Filipino. This fight, however, requires socio-economic consciousness so as to realize that each Filipino is more than just a chess piece struggling in society’s game of survival. Each  Filipino, whether belonging to the majority or the indigenous minority, is worthy of human dignity, agency, and democracy.

Writer’s Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank Teacher Rose Hayahay, Sir Jun Feguro, Inday Baraz, and other members of the UPD Lumad bakwit school, both faculty and students, who openly shared their stories of resilience and resistance in the name of education. I would also like to acknowledge Ms. Fionna Pelayo and the entire Salinlahi team for being my bridge towards the Lumad community.   

The Lumad bakwit community is open to integrate with partner organizations and other support groups. It welcomes donations of food, water, clothes, toiletries, school supplies, etc. For donations, contact Teacher Elsa at 0909 012 8952.


This article contains views and insights on the perspective of the Lumad community and the Save our Schools (SOS) network. The writer is also open to hear the side of the Department of Education in the Salugpungan 55 issue.


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