Last September 14, 2018 (Friday), the Rector of the University of Santo Tomas, the Very Rev. Fr. Herminio V. Dagohoy, O.P., PhD, met with representatives of the Lumad tribe currently housed in the University’s Central Seminary Gymnasium as part of the weeklong Bakwit School initiative of the Save Our Schools Network.

Meeting the Rector were Manilyn Gantangan (Grade 10 – 18 y/o), Catheron Dalon (Grade 10 – 15 y/o), Raquel Mandacan (Grade 10 – 16 y/o), Rev. Fr. Oliver Castor, CSsR (St. Clement’s Mission Seminary, representing the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines); Ms. Geming Alonzo (Executive Director / Teacher – Center for Lumad Advocacy Networking and Services); and Rius Valle (Mindanao Spokesperson of the Save Our Schools Network).

Another chance for “pakikipag-kapwa”
The weeklong activity has so far seen enrichment sessions provided by different academic units. Students and faculty members likewise go on their own to the Central Seminary Gymnasium to mingle with the Lumad, who take the chance to share their story.

In relation to this, Fr. Rector encouraged the Lumad to “continue sharing the narrative. Here in Manila, we do not necessarily get to hear or read about it so much unless you really research about it. So it is a learning experience for us to know what is really happening.”

The vital role of education
During the courtesy call, education came out as a crucial long-term solution to the crisis faced by the Lumad, who, as an indigenous tribe, are exposed to threats to their ancestral lands by from external forces.

Simbahayan Community Development Office Director Mark Anthony D. Abenir, DSD said that “with education and the knowledge of the law and their rights, the Lumad can better protect their heritage and their rights.”

Due to the crisis, educational delivery was severely affected, following the destruction of several schools for the Lumad. As a result, some of the Lumad youth have been brought to evacuation areas in different parts of the country, where they can continue receiving education despite being itinerant. The current Bakwit School initiative is a way for the children to continue learning despite moving from one location to another.

UST’s support
According to Fr. Dagohoy, he acceded to the request of the Save Our Schools Network to accommodate the Lumad in 2017 and again this year, “first and foremost for us [Thomasians] to develop that sense of shared humanity. “Ang pakikipag-kapwa (shared humanity) naman hindi mo mararamdaman kung hindi mo nahaharap at nakikita ‘yung sitwasyon. Kumbaga eh, pipilitin mong pumasok sa sitwasyon ng tao. In English, we say emphatizing, but in Tagalog, pakikipag-kapwa has a deeper meaning. Kasi kapag nakipag-kapwa ka, ang kasunod nun ay pag-kilos.”

Fr. Dagohoy believes that with the positive response of students and faculty members, with an estimated 500 Thomasian volunteers expressing support for the Lumad beyond their weeklong stay in UST, and the more-than-1000 visitors who have so far flocked to the Central Seminary Gymnasium, the sense of shared humanity is being seen.

“Beyond political [issues], we are here to respond as an educational institution. Our capacity to influence may be limited, but not in terms of helping the minds of these young Lumad. Freeing their minds from ignorance is our mission,” Fr. Dagohoy stressed. “Maraming paraan ng pagtulong at pakikipag-isa. Kailangan lang talaga nating marinig ang kwento ng mga taong ito, to listen to their struggles, and in our own capacity, we can sufficiently address their concerns. So nakikita ko, education will be our response.”

Following the messages of thanks from the Lumad youth, Fr. Dagohoy renewed the University’s commitment to help the Lumad. “Makaka-asa naman kayo sa bukas na pintuan ng Unibersidad. Sana’y ‘wag kayong pang-hinaan ng loob. Mahirap talaga ang kalagayan ninyo. Magandang nakita ng aming mga mag-aaral ang lawak at lalim ng inyong hinaharap na pagsubok upang mamulat sila sa suliranin ng kapwa nila bata, and I think it’s a very important lesson on the part of our students. Sana mabuksan pa ang kanilang isip sa pagtulong at pag-suporta, and the University will always be willing to support your cause for education.”

A school for the Lumads in Zamboanga del Sur
The University of Santo Tomas, through the National Service Training Program, recently donated a school for the Lumad in Zamboanga del Sur. The school now caters to 52 students, helping restore the access to education that was affected because of the crisis.

As highlighted during the courtesy call, the partnership between UST and the Zamboanga del Sur counterparts helped bring legitimacy to the cause and the project. “When they see the name of an educational institution that’s established, there is a certain sense of legitimacy to the project. Alam nilang honest-to-goodness na trabaho ito para sa mga beneficiaries,” Fr. Dagohoy said.

Looking forward
On the sidelines of the courtesy call, Fr. Dagohoy said that with UST’s soon-to-open General Santos campus, there is a great possibility for the Thomasian family to ensure the sustainability of assistance provided to the indigenous peoples. Citing the ordination / mandate given by the Dominican Province of the Philippines to the University, Fr. Dagohoy said that “the General Santos Campus will house projects and centers that will address the issues in Mindanao.”