Mt. Pulag Primary School: Made in heaven, 7,748 ft above sea level
Halina Matantan is believed to be 100-years-old but not once in her life has she written her name. “Hindi ako marunong magsulat kasi hindi ako nakapag-aral. Wala kasing paaralan noon dito,” she said.
Matantan lives in Mt. Pulag, Benguet – the highest peak in Luzon. The high altitude and rocky terrain make it difficult to put up a school in the mountain.
A daycare center was built in 1994 but it was not until 2007 when the first classroom was constructed at 7,748 feet above sea level. It was named Mt. Pulag Primary School.
Additional classrooms were built only four years later with the help of the private sector.
The new classrooms made it possible for students like Grade 5 pupil Flora Mhey Tampoc to go back to school.
With clouds touching her palms, Flora Mhey believes her dream is now within reach. She wants to become a doctor. “Para po tulungan ko si Mama at Daddy,” she said.
It takes her more than two hours a day to walk from her home to school and back. Still, it is a better option that attending school at the foot of the mountain that could take her a day worth of trekking.
That was the case for Fred Aguinse, an elder of the Kalanguya Tribe. “Mahigit kalahating araw ako naglalakad noon kase nasa paanan pa ng bundok yung paaralan,” he said.
Even in the skies, problems arise.
While new classrooms benefited the new generation, the government has reservations about these developments.
In February 20, 1987, Mt. Pulag was declared as a National Park under Presidential Proclamation 75 during the administration of then-President Corazon Aquino. The aim was to conserve, preserve and protect the area from exploitation.
However, authorities are worried that the establishment of one school after another could lead to massive migration upslope and eventually result in denudation of the forest.
“That happened to Mount Data. Binuksan ang roads. Yung sa baba, nag-migrate sila. Na-kalbo yung Mount Data. It led to the death of Mount Data National Park. Why? For every institution na i-put up ng government, andyan yung negosyante. Maghahakot yung businessmen. Economic activities will come in, which will counter… watershed management,” said Emerita Albas, superintendent of the Protected Area Office-Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The government is not averse to development per se, said Albas. “It is important to educate the people. But we have to place them strategically. There should be an impact analysis because in the future we [DENR] could be blamed for that.”
Mt. Pulag National Park spans 11,500 hectares – already inhabited and cultivated are 2,877 hectares or 24.9 percent. With about 90 percent of Mt. Pulag’s inhabitants dependent on agriculture for sustenance, more lands are farmed.
Also, 5,822 hectares or 50.4 percent comprise the mossy forest – a source of lumber, medicine and home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. The rest are grasslands and pine trees.
“If the vegetable farmers keep on farming new lands, water will reduce. Then dams will collapse. Electricity will suffer. Where do we get food and water? We won’t have source of firewood and medicine,” Albas said.
Mt. Pulag is home to a number of ethno-linguistic groups whose ancestors lived in the mountains since time immemorial.
Aguinse belongs to the Kalanguya, the largest tribe in Mt. Pulag, which makes up 77 percent of the population. The rest are composed of the Ibaloys (20 percent) and the Kankaney and Karao (3 percent).
Under Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous People’s Right Act indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples (ICCs/IPs) are entitled to own and develop their ancestral domains. Section 7 reads, “No ICCs/IPs will be relocated without their free and prior informed consent, nor through any means other than eminent domain.”
“They have been here even before the law was passed. As inhabitants of the place they have the right to own the land, to stay in the land and to grow in the land. The principle is you have to work, study and live in the place that you grew up,” said Atty. Angelo Valencia, a supporter of TEN Moves!
TEN Moves! is a campaign to raise enough resources to build 10,000 classrooms in public schools all over the Philippines, according to its website.
The government is mandated to protect the ICCs/IPs right to their ancestral domains. According to Section 51, “Measures shall be taken in appropriate cases to safeguard the rights of the ICCs/IPs concerned to land which may no longer be exclusively occupied by them, but to which they have traditionally had access for their subsistence and traditional activities.”
Instead, tribe members claim they were not consulted prior to promulgation of the National Park. “Parang madalian. ‘Yon ang kinakakasama ng loob namin,” says Aguinse.
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples is currently working with DENR to consult with tribe members. This exercise aims to inform and educate them and at the same time hear their sentiments. Tribe members on the other hand should care after the lands and ensure future generations are not compromised.
Section 58 reads, “The ICCs/IPs concerned shall be given the responsibility to maintain, develop, protect and conserve such areas with the full and effective assistance of the government agencies.”
Division of zones
There is no clear demarcation as to where Mt. Pulag National Park begins. Still, PAO (Protected Areas Office) believes part of it is now inhabited and exploited.
Roads constructed inside the park give motorized vehicles access and encourage the construction of new structures.
To regulate park management, PAO proposes the division of zones into strictly protected zone, multiple-use zone, sustainable-use zone, and restoration zone. Expansion of schools, says Albas, can be done inside the multiple use zone.
Locals fear Mt. Pulag Primary School might be bulldozed if found to be inside the strictly protected zone, and students would be displaced.
“Mahihirapan yung mga bata lalo na yung mga maliliit na bata. Baka po hindi na sila papasok kasi po malayo. Hindi nila kaya yung daan, hindi maganda yung daan.” said Nena Wais, Grade 3 teacher at Mt. Pulag Primary School.
A number of students in Kabayan, Benguet have stopped attending school after they finished Grade 5 in the absence of classrooms that could accommodate Grade 6 students. Plans to put up new classrooms for the students are in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, those who wish to continue must transfer to Abucot Elementary School, an hour and a half away by foot from the Primary School.
Aguinse said, “Mag bo-board sila sa iba. Kailangan ng mas malaking baon. ‘Yon ang maaring maging dahilan para hindi na sila makapag-aral.”
Flora Mhey may be one of those who might stop attending school. Aside from her poor health, her family couldn’t possibly finance her transfer. Her parents – both farmers – earn only P20,000 a year. “Sumasakit po ng ulo ko ma’am, pati tiyan po ma’am,” she said.
“Sabi ng doctor n’ya barado ang kanyang lungs,” her mother added.
According to the Department of Education (DepEd), 5.6 million students, ages six to 15, have dropped out or have never gone to school before.
More classrooms, new books
The country is still short of 66,800 classrooms. President Benigno Aquino III said the backlog would be addressed before end of 2013.
New books and teaching materials are also needed.
In his 3rd State of the Nation Address, Aquino said that before the year ends, a one-to-one ratio of books to students would be achieved. The 61.7-million textbook shortage would be down to zero.
At Mt. Pulag Primary School, most of the books are older than the classrooms with three students sharing one book at a time. “’Yung ibang books eight-years, ten-years old na,” Wais said.
Grade 2 teacher Josephine Sumakey said books were donated for the school but are yet to reach them. “Mahirap i-transport yung mga books dito kasi walang mga sasakyan na magdadala.”
Atty. Valencia said private groups and individuals should take action to improve the quality of education in the country. “The government cannot do it alone. If the private sector will not act, what a misery. The government must partner with the private sector, the private sector should not complain. They must partner with the government, under one flag.”
The 57-75 Education Reform Movement is pushing for the TEN Moves campaign to raise funds for the construction of 10,000 new classrooms across the country.
The goal is to encourage two million people to donate P10 per day for 10 months. This complements the government campaign called Bayanihang Pampaaralan which aims to pool donations from private groups and individuals to help build additional classrooms.
The goal to eliminate the classroom backlog by next year is almost dreamlike but not impossible. Addressing the education crisis in the country is not just a responsibility of the government, but of every Filipino. Are you a Filipino? It’s about time you take part in our nation building. — VS, GMA News
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