MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 1:31 p.m.) Lawmakers and an international human rights watchdog slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to order the military to bomb lumad schools in Mindanao and demanded that he retract his statement.
“Instead of denying Filipino children their right to safe education, Duterte should sign the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental political commitment for the protection of students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack during times of war,” Human Rights Watch suggested. “Sixty-seven countries have now signed the declaration. It’s clearer than ever that the Philippines should do likewise.”
Duterte issued the threat at a press conference after his second state of the nation address Monday, repeating military claims that schools set up by civil society and religious organizations for indigenous communities operated illegally and actually taught “subversion [and] communism.”
“So umalis kayo diyan, bobombahan ko ‘yan. Isali ko ‘yang mga istruktura ninyo. I will use the Armed Forces, the Philippine Air Force,” he said after he had earlier said he would no longer negotiate peace with communist rebels.
Duterte uttered the threat even as hundreds of lumad, including students and their teachers, are in Manila to demand an end to attacks on their schools by the military and government-backed militias, which they say have worsened since martial law was declared over the whole of Mindanao.
“We condemn this as a clear red-tagging on a large scale and endorsement of violence and murder against indigenous peoples,” ACT Teachers Representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro said in a statement.
They also noted that, while some lumad schools may be operating without permits from the Department of Education, this is because “the applications of many are being denied as part of the systematic attack against indigenous peoples, which the President is now openly advocating.”
The Save Our Schools Network says there have been at least 83 attacks on 89 lumad schools since July last year, ranging from threats against students and teachers, the occupation of the schools and other civilian structures by soldiers, to extrajudicial killings and at least one case of enforced disappearance.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate reminded Duerte called on Pres. Duterte of what he said during the SONA, “that he values life like he values his own and that he cannot solve the problems of the country by war or killing other Filipinos, thus there is no justification for ordering the AFP to bomb lumad schools with thousands of lumad children and their communities,”
He also urged Duterte to be more circumspect with the information he receives, saying: “If the president truly wants peace then he should sift through the supposed intelligence information that the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is feeding him because they are mostly fraudulent or at best half truths like what they did in Marawi, in Arakan and in their other operations.”
“By calling for an attack on schools, Duterte is directing the military to commit war crimes,” Human Rights Watch warned.
“International humanitarian law — the laws of war — prohibits attacks on schools and other civilian structures unless they are being used for military purposes,” it said. “Deliberately attacking civilians, including students and teachers, is also a war crime.”