“We are appealing to the public, as well as the international community to unite and defend Lumad schools in Mindanao.”
By DEE AYROSO and ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Teachers and child rights’ advocates condemned President Duterte’s threats to order the bombing of Lumad schools, which he branded to be operating illegally and “teaching communism.”
“Yung mga iskwelahan ng mga Lumad, they are operating without the Department of Education’s permit kasi sa iskwelahan nila, they are teaching subversion, communism, lahat na. So umalis kayo d’yan, bobombahan ko ‘yan. Isali ko ‘yang mga istruktura ninyo. I will use the Armed Forces, the Philippine Air Force,” Duterte said in his press conference yesterday, July 24, after speaking to protesters in the rally parallel to his State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Some 200 Lumad students, teachers and peasants were among yesterday’s protesters. Many of them had recently evacuated from their communities to evade military operations.
The threat, coming from no less than the President, forebodes of worse times for struggling alternative schools for the Lumad, which have been constantly targeted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, paramilitary groups, and even local government units, as part of government counterinsurgency operations. The attacks, which have intensified in recent years, spurred the formation of the Save our Schools (SOS) Network, which now calls on the public to help defend these schools.
“We demand that the President retract his statement,” said a statement by the ACT Teachers Partylist.
“This statement amounts to an order to continue the military’s branding of innocents and the institution nurturing them as rebels,” said the group, adding that it is practically an order for the military to attack civilians and intensify human rights violations.
Among such schools under siege are those run by the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS), Mindanao Interfaith Services Inc. (Misfi Academy), the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in Bukidnon, the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, or Alcadev Inc. in Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Sur, Salugpungan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center or STTICLC in Davao del Norte, and the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (CLANS).
Alcadev and STTICLC were established by Lumad groups Mapasu and Salugpungan, respectively.
Alcadev, which is based in Han-ayan, Diatagon village, Lianga, Surigao del Sur, suffered the worst attack so far, when its executive director, Emerito Samarca, was killed by paramilitary men along with Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and DatuBello Sinzo in 2015.
The massacre is believed to be in collusion with soldiers who were in the area at the time of the attack.
A repeat of the horrific crime is not far-fetched, as Duterte’s threat is “a clear red-tagging on a large scale, and endorsement of violence and murder against indigenous peoples,” said ACT Teachers Partylist.
The group said these schools have long been operating and recognized by the Department of Education. TRIFPSS has won the National Literacy Award in 2001 and 2005. In the past years, DepEd has imposed additional conditions in the renewal of license to operate for these alternative schools, going as far as shutting down the STTICLC in 2015.
“The applications of many are being denied as part of the systematic attack against indigenous peoples which the President is now openly advocating,” said the teachers’ group.
“Schools of indigenous peoples and community learning centers, such as those for the Lumad in Mindanao, are established and maintained by people’s organizations and members of the local communities themselves due to the absence of public schools offering free education in their areas. They are also part of indigenous peoples’ assertion of their right to self-determination,” said Eule Rico Bonganay, secretary general of Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns.
SOS Network has documented cases of military occupation of schools, death threats and harassment against students, teachers and parents, destruction of school properties, and malicious branding of schools. From July 2016 to July 2017 the group has documented at least 68 incidents of attacks on schools or at least one attack per week.
This has prompted the Makabayan bloc to file a House Resolution on Congress to investigate these cases.
The violations of human rights increased with the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. These include the intensified military operations and aerial reconnaissance of bomber planes, which triggered the evacuation of some 2,000 Lumad from their communities in Lianga, Surigao del Sur early this July.
Bonganay, who is also lead convener of SOS Network, added: “It has been a practice of the AFP to tag Lumad schools that are critical against mining companies in Mindanao as ‘training ground’ of the communist rebels. But it’s even more alarming because President Duterte is echoing the same baseless accusation and maligning our Lumad schools.”
“We are appealing to the public, as well as the international community to unite and defend Lumad schools in Mindanao,” Bonganay said. He warned of increasing protests against Duterte if he pushes with his “genocidal campaign against the Lumad and Moro people in Mindanao.”
Duterte will be violating international humanitarian law
Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan said that bombing Lumad schools is a violation of the international humanitarian law.
According to United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, attacks on schools and hospitals during conflict is one of the six grave violations identified and condemned by the UN Security Council.
“He had a mouthful for the Lumad schools and communities in his press conference that his forces should not hesitate to bomb these schools. Bullying Lumad kids and communities is one thing – his State forces get away with it every time – but bombing their schools and communities is a war crime, one of the gravest violations under international humanitarian law,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.
Carlos Conde, researcher for Human Rights Watch, echoed this and said Duterte will be ordering the military to commit war crimes. He said the President “should publicly retract his threats of violence against tribal schools before the military acts on them.”
“Instead of denying Filipino children their right to safe education, Duterte should sign the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental commitment for the protection of students, teachers, and universities from attack during times of war,” Conde said. Sixty-seven countries have signed the declaration, he added.
‘Lowest of the low’
In a statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) called Duterte a “madman” for making the threats.
“Having been rebuked by the people’s jeers, you threaten to drop bombs on the Lumad schools. You threaten to kill the children. You are the lowest of the low,” said the statement.
The CPP said Duterte only pick on the small and the oppressed, but failed to make a stand against superpowers China and the US. The statement said Duterte has bowed to China after acquiring loan worth $24 billion dollars. “You have practically surrendered the country’s rights. Not a whimper from you while China transformed the Spratly islands into their military fortress,” said the group.
The CPP said amid the Marawi conflict, Duterte had also buckled to the US, which has provided technical and intelligence support to government troops who are fighting the Dawlah Islamiyah. “You beat your chest and order to bomb Marawi and lick the boots of the US military for providing you the rifles and jetfighters,” it said.