NON-GOVERNMENTAL organization Human Rights Watch urged President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday to retract his statement that he would order the military to bomb lumad schools in Mindanao .
“Duterte should publicly retract his threat of violence against tribal schools before the military acts on them. And although the Philippines has legislation and Department of Education guidelines prohibiting military use of schools, they are often ignored,” said Carlos Conde, researcher of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.
The Department of Education has, meanwhile, continued to remain silent on Duterte’s threats, referring inquiring reporters instead to Malacanang’s explanation, expounded by Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella.
“[President Duterte] warns them in the strongest terms to discontinue these actions [of teaching subversion and communism]; persistence [in this activity] will warrant appropriate government action,” Abella said, adding the bombings will continue.
“President Duterte highlights the need to protect our youth and doing so entails ensuring they get the correct education that reinforces the right values that instill love of country and respect for our laws among others, and not rebellion,” he said.
The last time the DepEd was heard was when Education Secretary Leonor Briones appealed to the military to “spare” schools—along with their teachers, school personnel and students from violence, intimidation or threat amid the continuing clashes in Marawi City.
“Worldwide, schools are universally treated as neutral zones despite being in the middle of intense armed conflict and are free from the presence of armed combatants regardless of what side they are from,” Briones said last June.
“It is imperative that this point be stressed, and that our schools be accorded the same respect – that schools are places for learning, caring and nurturing. A true second home for our students,” Briones added.
In a related development, the militant group Anakbayan condemned Duterte’s threat to shoot down protesters and bomb lumad schools, which the President described as training grounds of the communists.
“Mad dictator-wannabe Duterte has become so intoxicated with power and obsessed with martial law that killings and bombings has [sic] become his standard response to almost every issue in front of him. We strongly condemn Duterte’s threats to shoot down protesters and bomb lumad schools,” said Anakbayan National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo.
Crisostomo, who described Duterte as “troll-in-chief,” said the President, echoing what he said was the line of the military, had accused lumad schools of being training grounds of communist rebels.
“The truth is Duterte’s threats of state violence against the lumad, activists, and ordinary people only shows [sic] how much of a coward this thug of a President is. In truth, Duterte can only exercise force against the marginalized. But he is powerless in the face of militarists, big oligarchs, China and US imperialism,” said Crisostomo.
Conde of Human Rights Watch said, instead of denying Filipino children their right to safe education, Duterte should sign what he called the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental political commitment for the protection of students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack during times of war.
Some 67 countries have now signed the declaration.
“It’s clearer than ever that the Philippines should do likewise,” said Conde.
With Duterte’s recent statement, he said the President had ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines “to commit war crimes” after he warned the lumads that he would order the bombing of their schools,
“By calling for an attack on schools, Duterte is directing the military to commit war crimes. International humanitarian law – the laws of war – prohibits attacks on schools and other civilian structures unless they are being used for military purposes,” said Conde.
“Deliberately attacking civilians, including students and teachers, is also a war crime,” said Conde.
Conde added indigenous-run “peoples’ schools” have long been targets of the military and paramilitary forces, which accuse them of being “training grounds” for the New People’s Army, the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Government security forces in Mindanao have largely escaped accountability for such abuses, he said.
On Monday, Duterte told a news conference after his more than two-hour State of the nation Address, that he would “bomb those schools [teaching subversion and communism]... I will use the Armed Forces, the Philippine Air Force… because you’re operating illegally and you’re teaching the children to rebel against government.”
Duterte also vowed to continue his “war on drugs,” a campaign, according to Conde, in which the police and their agents have killed thousands of suspected drug dealers and users in cold blood.
Conde said Duterte’s tirade against “subversive” schools that teach indigenous Lumad children came after he declared an end to the peace negotiations with the NPA, which has been waging a Maoist insurgency for nearly five decades and, according to the government, has made tribal areas in the countryside its base of operations.
At the news conference, Duterte linked several lumad schools, operating without a permit, to communist rebels and stressed they deserved to be bullied.
“These schools are teaching subversion, communism, everything. So better stay away from them. I will tell the lumad there, stay away [from those schools]. I will bomb them. I will include these structures,” the President said.
Conde said: “By calling for an attack on schools, Duterte is directing the military to commit war crimes. International humanitarian law – the laws of war – prohibits [sic] attacks on schools and other civilian structures unless they are being used for military purposes. Deliberately attacking civilians, including students and teachers, is also a war crime,” he added.
During the Aquino administration, several schools built for the lumad were ordered closed and occupied, triggering protests against the military occupation of schools.
The plight of the lumad was highlighted after the September 2015 killings of Emerito Samarca, a head teacher of an award-winning school for Lumad youth in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, along with two others, Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo, allegedly by paramilitary forces.
According Crisostomo, Duterte surrendered the West Philippine Sea to Chinese military might for $24-billion worth of Chinese loans.
He added Duterte also allowed United States officials to direct military operations in Marawi and maintained US military presence in the country out of fear of a coup by the military.
“Duterte’s latest barrage of petty insults, undisguised threats, and cheap theatrics really is just a continuation of his raving and rambling Sona and gatecrashing of the Sona protest last Monday,” said Crisostomo.
Commenting on Duterte’s surprise and uninvited apperance at the Sona protest, Crisostomo said the President simply wanted to turn the rally stage into a bully pulpit in an attempt to defend martial law, justify his failed promises, and hurl insults against the ranks of rain-drenched protesters.
He said: “Duterte demanded respect from the protesting crowd. But the kind of respect this bully president knows is silently putting up with his verbal abuses and profanity.
“This only stoked the ire of the protesters, which included victims of the war on drugs and lumad and workers from Mindanao suffering from Duterte’s martial law.”
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