MISFI: Providing Free Education to Lumad Children Despite Attacks

On October 23, 2015, the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School located in Kitaotao, Bukidnon managed by the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI) was suddenly under attack by more than 100 people, led by the Barangay Captain of White Culaman, Felipe Cabugnason. They destroyed the fence of the school and forcibly entered the premises without permission. They brought with them crowbars, bolo knives, and bows and arrows.

The group, composed of several Barangay Kagawads and a Barangay Police, then confiscated the cellphones, memory cards, and SIM cards of the stunned students and teachers. The latter were threatened with harm if they take photos or videos of the incident. The students and teachers were then forced to leave the classrooms and were ordered by Cabugnason to line-up. They were photographed one by one, on the premise that they might become future rebels or active in the “Movement”.

During the line-up, Cabugnason accused a 7th grade student, Dina Mie Pastera, of being a “daughter of an NPA (New People’s Army) rebel” and demanded that she be turned over to the barangay officials. The child was very frightened and cried loudly. She vehemently refused to be taken by the barangay.

Cabugnason then forced Principal Fritzie Junance Magbanua to sign a document stating that they have no properties inside the school. Magbanua firmly refused and so Cabugnason ordered the teachers and students to leave the school. The group hiked for more than an hour, carrying with them meager food supplies, and sought sanctuary in Arakan, North Cotabato, in a church where their beloved Fr. Pops used to celebrate mass.

The harassment experienced by the students and teachers underscores the many cases of attacks on MISFI’s schools and communities.

Backgrounder on MISFI

MISFI is a private non-stock, non-profit, non-government organization (NGO) serving the three peoples of Mindanao – Lumad, Moro, and Christian communities. It is the Mindanao Interfaith People’s Conference (MIPC) secretariat since 1983.

It envisions a society free from social inequities, poverty and foreign aggression and a society working towards total human liberation where people are able to live out their full potentials and aspiration, exercise their faith freely and work as responsible builders of wealth and progress.

It envisions a society free from social inequities, poverty and foreign aggression and a society working towards total human liberation where people are able to live out their full potentials and aspiration, exercise their faith freely and work as responsible builders of wealth and progress.

MISFI is an aggrupation of non-government nationalist development organizations and peoples organizations in Mindanao that acts as a service institution committed to the Mindanao tri-people poor of Lumad, Moro and lowland Christian communities through various capacity, conscious of the interfaith dimension of social development work.

Its goals are three-fold: first is to realize a liberating ethno-linguistic heritage and aspirations of Mindanao’s tri-people poor: Moro, Lumad, and majority are Filipinos. Second is to develop homegrown solidarity groups of grassroots sectors such as farmers, semi-skilled seasonal workers, urban poor and lowly professionals. And third, to strengthen international relations that facilitate the creation of mechanisms of support for the tri-people poor’s needs, responses, and rights assertion.

MISFI has the following programs and services:
a. Project Development that responds to the people’s needs in hinterland communities through capacity building including overcoming vulnerabilities during disasters. 
b. Interfaith Trialogue, Partnership and Cooperation which promotes solidarity, cooperation, and mutual support for the tri-peoples’ aspiration. Through fora, symposia, interfaith celebration and prayer, and workshops, MISFI hopes to propagate active awareness on generations-old animosities in Mindanao and a clear understanding on the Lumad and Moro rights to self-determination. 
c. Solidarity Exposure and Education (SEE)-Mindanao invites and accommodates friends from abroad who are interested to experience the lives of Mindanao’s tri-people poor. It seeks to project Mindanao issues and concerns by immersion in the area. The program also organizes itinerary of Mindanao social landscape and offers a better understanding of prevailing Mindanao issues like the Moro conflict, and the backward and feudalistic agriculture. 
d. Information Technology Services for the People provides the global media with access to MISFI’s data, studies, and researches including local situation and events for international projection. It also publishes other educational and campaign materials for wider dissemination and support. 
e. Community Education Program responds to the educational needs in far flung villages by preparing the children and adults with basic educational tools right in their own communities where they are at ease. It is also cost-efficient for them. The program utilizes indigenous materials and methods to suit the students.
Community Education is the institution’s centerpiece program. Its main component is the MISFI Academy.

MISFI Academy

Core Values: Nationalist, Scientific, Mass-Oriented (NSMO)

The philosophy behind the establishment of the Academy is that education is a basic right that every child especially the indigenous people must be availed. However, history has shown that the indigenous peoples have rarely been served by the government of this basic service. The remoteness and safety of indigenous communities have been made an excuse for the lack of basic social services. Without these services, especially education, the communities are made vulnerable to corporate ventures such as open-pit mines and agribusiness encroaching their ancestral domains. This results to divisiveness among the people.

The MISFI Academy generally aims to provide basic education to the indigenous children in the context of upgrading their socio-economic, political, and cultural life in order to attain true development and empowerment that protects their ancestral domain territories and their right to self-determination. It facilitates and organizes events to encourage and develop children to foster their self-worth and respect to their tribe, fellow Filipinos, and country through curriculum development and extra-curricular activities. Such undertakings further enhance the capacity of community leaders and encourage children’s participation and leadership in the community. Hence, their students become active and responsible indigenous youth leaders.

In this context, MISFI works with the indigenous communities to build various campuses of the MISFI Academy all over Mindanao. The Academy aims to give education that is FREE to indigenous children. It provides an education that enhances the self-worth and awareness of the indigenous children of their tradition, culture and rights, and direct them towards being future leaders to protect and cultivate their ancestral domain territories towards sustainable nation-building. Moreover, the Academy aims to enhance the skills and innovations of the community to produce and contribute for the socio-economic growth of the community and the society as a whole. It also initiates activities that would preserve and promote indigenous values, culture, traditions and beliefs and to protect these from discrimination and exploitation.

For the school year 2017-2018, MISFI Academy had a total of 32 campuses, 8 of which were newly-opened last year. It has more than 1,500 learners from pre-school to Grade 10 and 97 educators.

Attacks on Schools

Below are some incidences of attacks against MISFI Academy campuses:

• On July 7, 2016, 3 teachers and 46 students the MISFI Academy in Sitio Mangani and Sitio Gatungon, Brgy. Tapak, Paquibato District, Davao City experienced threat, harassment, and vilification perpetrated by Boris Cayuga and 33 elements of the Alamara paramilitary group;
• On August 30, 2016, the MISFI Academy at Sitio Danggayon, Brgy. Casoon, Monkayo, Compostela Valley was encamped by the military under the 25th Infantry Battalion (IB) and tagged as an “NPA” school, affecting 44 students and 3 teachers;
• From November 4-5, 2016, members of the 84th IB encamped at MISFI Academy’s campus in Sitio Licuyan, Brgy. Tambobong, Baguio District, Davao City. On January 3, 2017, three of its teachers were threatened and harassed by Boris Cayuga and the Alamara;
• On May 30, 2017, JP Marson Luces, a teacher of MISFI, experienced threat, harassment, and intimidation from elements of the 67th IB in Bagangan, Baganga, Davao Oriental;
• On June 5, 2017, five students of MISFI experienced grave threat, harassment, and intimidation from three Alamara members which is headed by Ongging Masaloon at Sitio Patel, Brgy. Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte;
• On June 16, 2017, more than 20 MISFI students experienced threat, harassment, intimidation, coercion, and hamletting perpetrated by 2 members of the Alamara namely, Dungkog Tumagsa and Awrit Tumagsa at Sitio Luno-luno, Brgy. Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte;
• On June 24, 2017, thirty-two students of MISFI experienced forcible evacuation by the Alamara and the 60th IB at Sitio Muling, Brgy. Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte;
• On May 26, 2018, Beverly Geronimo, 27 years old, an active member of the Parent-Teachers’ Community Association (PTCA) of MISFI Academy was killed by 2 armed men in civilian clothes who are believed to be agents of the 25th Infantry Battalion in Brgy. Salvacion, Trento, Agusan del Sur

Success Stories

In the course of establishing the MISFI Academy campuses, its teachers, students and staff have encountered numerous forms of attacks, harassment, threats, and vilification mainly from elements of the military, paramilitary, and local government officials. Not only were they harassed and threatened but their supporters as well.

“MISFI survived Martial Law in 1983 with all the challenges even if it was still a very new organization at that time. Now after 35 years it has served and continues to serve the poor, deprived, oppressed, exploited, awakened, and struggling Lumad, Moro and Christian settlers in Mindanao,” Percinita ‘Dadai’ Sanchez, MISFI’s Executive Director proudly declares.

Despite the various challenges and difficulties, MISFI has proved to be triumphant in providing free education to indigenous children. The Community Education Program started as an Adult Literacy and Numeracy, and then an Early Childhood Education or MISFI Community Learning Center was added. And now, it has become the MISFI Academy which has served 10,583 learners from 61 campuses/communities in 11 provinces and 24 municipalities/cities in 5 regions (X, XI, XII, XIII, ARMM) of Mindanao.

The fact that the number of MISFI’s campuses is increasing year after year is enough proof that its work is supported by the very Lumad communities that it is serving. No amount of black propaganda from the government will be able to break MISFI’s staff, students, and community members’ resolve or frighten them into inaction.

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AscentPH is a national alliance of development organizations determinedly working for the empowerment of the people through poverty alleviation and promoting and defending the right to development and other fundamental human rights and freedoms.

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