Suspension order on Lumad schools: Media sideline impact on right to education

Photo from Save Our Schools Network Facebook page.

ISSUES CONCERNING indigenous peoples (IPs) are rarely, if at all, covered by the news media. The Department of Education’s (DepEd) recent order to suspend the operations of 55 Lumad schools in the Davao region was no exception.

The order was issued in response to a complaint filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, accusing the schools of supposedly encouraging students to rebel against the government. Acting on this complaint, Education Secretary Leonor Briones added that the Lumad schools had also failed to comply with DepEd guidelines.

Martial Law in Mindanao has intensified military operations in the region. Esperon’s claims and the closure deserve more focus and analysis than what media coverage has provided. News accounts on this development was limited to the statements made by the officials and none inquired into the impact of the closure on the education of Lumad children.

CMFR monitored the coverage of three Manila-based broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin), four primetime news programs (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA-7’s 24 Oras, CNN Philippines’ News Night and TV5’s Aksyon) and selected online news sites from July 13 to 21.

Only two TV reports on the issue aired on primetime: one in TV Patrol and one in News Night. On print, the Inquirer produced four reports, more than the Star and the Bulletin combined.

More than the scarcity of the reports, the coverage echoed the allegations of Esperon and Briones, and quoted the Lumad school teachers and representatives of the IP school networks. No report bothered to explain what Lumad schools are and why these exist in the first place. Only one report in mentioned the DepEd memorandum on Indigenous People’s Education, which mandates that the curriculum used in IP schools should be oriented to their culture.

Most of the reports failed to provide the context in which DepEd issued the suspension order. Only the Inquirer recalled previous attacks on Lumad schools since the start of Martial Law in Mindanao, and the resulting displacement of students. The Inquirer also recalled President Rodrigo Duterte’s remark that he would order the armed forces to bomb these schools for supposedly being communist fronts.

Whether completely uninformed or simply uninterested, media reportage on the shutdown of their schools further marginalized public discourse on the plight of the Lumad in the Philippines.