DEPARTMENT of Education (DepEd) 7 Director Salustiano Jimenez said he did not see any liability on the part of the University of San Carlos (USC) administration over the housing of Lumad children for a learning program initiated by Save Our Schools, a network of child-focused non-governmental organizations.
The DepEd 7 head said his office has no jurisdiction over the retreat house where the 19 minors from the indigenous peoples in Davao del Norte were temporarily staying and where the “rescue” operation by the police and social workers happened on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021. The retreat house is operated by the Societas Verbi Divini priests who also run the USC campuses.
Jimenez said the area where the Lumad minors were housed does not belong to the school’s basic education department.
The operation was conducted by the local police with members of the Cebu City Department of Social Welfare and Services after six Lumad parents had sought their help.
Seven adults, including two indigenous group elders and two teachers, were arrested during the operation.
The Save Our Schools Network Cebu, which is composed of civil and cause-oriented groups, denounced the operation, calling it an “illegal arrest,” not a “rescue” operation.
The group said the Lumad Bakwit School was launched in University of the Philippines Cebu in October 2019 as an effort to help members of Lumad tribes to continue their education despite the militarization of their communities, which the group said has “worsened over the decades.”
The USC administrators, in a statement, also said that “no rescue” was needed as the community quarantine implemented in Cebu in March 2020 was the reason the Lumad students were prevented from returning to Mindanao after their modular training ended in April 2020.
Jimenez said the Lumad Bakwit School students were not enrolled or registered in the DepEd 7 Learners’ Information System.
He said his office could have offered a solution at the time the Lumad students arrived in Cebu if there was a coordination between the USC administration and the DepEd 7.
“DepEd has no jurisdiction over the children because they were not included in our system,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez also said there was also no coordination between the police and the DepEd 7 before the Feb. 15 operation was conducted.
Commission on Higher Education 7 Director Maximo Aljibe said the controversy is already a police matter. He did not issue a statement with regards to the USC administration’s liability.
Jimenez said the DepEd 7 can only sanction a private school if it operates a basic education without securing a permit first.
The USC administrators said they only accommodated the Lumads for the meantime before they could return to their communities in Mindanao.
Jimenez said the DepEd 7 also has no information on how the classes under the Bakwit School program are being conducted.
The DepEd 7 was able to cater to students who were displaced after the Marawi siege in 2017. However, the difference was that the Marawi students were formally enrolled in DepEd-registered public schools and they were allowed to do so even though they lack school documents.
Jimebez said what they can do for now is to advocate to parents to have their children be enrolled in DepEd-registered institutions. (WBS)