Most Distinguished Awardee (Posthumous Award)
Chad Booc was a staunch activist, teacher, and advocate for the Lumad’s right to education, and their ancestral lands, and to self determination. A well-known activist during his college days at the University of the Philippines Diliman, went on to graduate with honors (cum laude) from a Computer Science course.
Back in college, Booc also showed a fervent desire to use his smarts to promote the Filipino people’s welfare. For his undergraduate thesis, he developed a mobile application for mental health first aid, in partnership with UP Manila. He was also involved in developing a Manobo dictionary application, together with Recardo de Leo, a Lumad.
After graduating, he volunteered to teach mathematics at the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development or ALCADEV, an alternative Lumad school for Lumad children in Surigao del Sur, Mindanao.
For decades, the military has wrongfully tagged ALCADEV and the other Lumad schools as NPA fronts, and consequently the communities that host these schools were militarized, attacked and bombed.
In the course of his work teaching mathematics to the Lumad children, Booc witnessed the militarization of Lumad ancestral lands and in actively campaigning against this, became even more resolute as an indigenous rights activist.
When Lumad schools were forcibly closed, Booc returned to Manila to help organize the Lakbayan, an annual march/rally/kampuhan (camp-out) of different national minority groups. This later led to the establishment of Save Our Schools Network, a human rights group advocating for Lumad rights. He also helped organize the Lumad Bakwit School, a mobile and makeshift school for the displaced Lumads, where he continued his efforts to teach mathematics.
Even the Covid-19 pandemic did not faze him. In the thick of it, Teacher Chad, as his students and fellow volunteers called him, spearheaded the volunteer teaching program for the Lumad Bakwit School in Cebu. He helped organize volunteer teachers, became a go-to teacher whenever Lumad students needed help with their modules, and helped develop the curriculum for Lumad schools — all these while joining mass actions and protests to demand the right of Lumads to self-determination and ancestral lands.
But as the climate of impunity and state violence worsened, he suffered innumerable incidents of red-tagging, death threats, and other forms of harassment.
Still, Booc persisted. In the course of his work and in collaboration with Engr. Amihan Manuel, he even created in 2020 a map of mining tenements and Lumad communities in Surigao from data of the DENR’s Mining and Geosciences Bureau, information from Lumad communities, and Chad’s personal experiences in the region. This map revealed the scale of mining plunder in the region, and pinpointed areas of proximity and overlap between mining blocks and Lumad communities — places where conflicts were sure to erupt.
His wide following on social media also helped bring the stories of the Lumads and his advocacies to the forefront of discussions in online and offline spaces such as in fora and webinars.
In 2021, Chad and six other teachers were arrested during a police raid in Cebu, where they were already holding the schools in “exile” since the Lumad communities were heavily militarized. They were slapped with trumped-up charges of training minors to become “terrorists.”
Three months later, the charges against the “Bakwit School 7” were dismissed for lack of evidence, the teachers were released, and Chad returned to his work in the Lumad schools, which had been forced to become itinerant.
But less than a year later, on February 24, Chad, together with fellow Lumad school volunteer teacher Jurain Ngujo, community health worker Elegyn Balong, and drivers Tirso Añar, Robert Aragon were accosted by government troops in Barangay Andap, New Bataan town in Davao de Oro, as they were returning from checking out a possible new spot for the Lumad schools.
Chad, Jurain, Elegyn, Tirso and Robert were murdered in cold blood by government troops. The soldiers later claimed that the killing occurred in an “encounter,” but reports from Save our Schools Network, locals and an autopsy on Chad’s body by forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun belie their claims.
Their deaths were widely denounced by rights advocates and even people just people who knew them. The College of Engineering of the University of the Philippines Diliman called Booc a “hero” for his unwavering commitment to human rights and to the Lumad people.
For his work that contributed in a large way to creating viable and sustainable models of education and food production that are sustainable because these draw on indigenous Lumad farming practices, and for his unwavering defense of the Lumad rights to their ancestral and to their environment, Chad Booc is the 2022 Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan Most Distinguished Awardee.