IT WAS a cat and mouse chase that happened this week in Davao City between Lumads and Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones.

The government news website PNA said that Briones was scheduled to visit on Wednesday local school supervisors at Kapitan Tomas Monteverde Elementary School, but canceled it as Lumads held a rally to “welcome” her and to ask for a dialogue to help protect their schools from militarization.

One of the Lumad education advocates, Rius Valle of the Save Our Schools Network, said they had been chasing Briones since last year during the Lumad’s Lakbayan campaign.

“When we were in Manila last year and went to her office and she told us she would address our concerns in the local level,” Valle said.

The group even staged a kampuhan at the DepEd gates for over a week on November, yet no dialogue with Briones took place.

Lumad school advocates wanted to raise two matters to Briones: to release the school permits long delayed for 14 schools, and the scrapping of DepEd Memo 221 series of 2013 which allows military presence for “protection from armed conflict.”

Former Gabriela Women’s Partylist Representative Luz Ilagan pointed out as early as 2015 that this memo undermines the efforts to bring education to the Lumads, as reports of abuse by soldiers and the paramilitary in schools expose children and teachers to risk. My previous columns pointed out the attacks made by the state security to prove the point.

A new memo, DepEd Memo 57 of 2017, was issued last November amending the Memo 221, and stressed to “continue the provision of education during times of armed conflict…and the implementation of concrete measures to prevent the use of schools and attacks on schools.”

But a memo doesn’t mean all is well. Valle said a dialogue could ensure the Lumads how this will be implemented, and listen to their inputs.

And with Briones in town, she still didn’t face the Lumad students, their parents and teachers. Instead, the Lumads and advocates went around the city looking for the secretary, and even went to the hotel she was staying.

Briones also failed to meet with the local ACT Teachers officers who wanted to raise the need to increase their salaries. This after the budget secretary contradicted the president’ promise of doubling salary increase, and Briones herself saying public school teachers are “well-compensated”.

With her no-show, there are questions that linger on what the education secretary can commit to ensure the security of the Lumads in their schools, or the welfare of the teachers. These are matters that can’t be solved by not showing up.