BOMB Lumad schools. This latest fiery remark spewed by President Duterte after his Sona got his generals panicking and on the defensive.
The AFP 4th Infantry Division was quick to say that they have no policy to bomb schools. Philippine National Police Region 11 director Superintendent Manuel Gaerlan explained that this was again Digong playing with figures of speech.
But their defense do not reassure the Lumad students and volunteer teachers in Mindanao who have been suffering from attacks yet again from paramilitary groups and soldiers in their counter-insurgency campaign. Some of the Lumad students and representatives even attended the Sona rally in front of the Batasan, hoping to have an audience with Duterte.
But what they saw instead was a fiery Duterte scolding the activists and later in his post-Sona interview, warned Lumads to stay out as he will intensify his campaign against the New People's Army.
"I'll tell you Lumads, leave, I will bomb this place, including your structures there." He warned that the schools have been "operating illegally and are teaching children to rebel against government."
Duterte may speak in hyperbole, and he explained later it was directed against the NPA. But his words added “salt to the wounds of Lumad children”, said the Salinlahi Alliance supporting the Lumad children.
“The last thing the children want to hear from him is this. There is no justification for what he said,” added Rius Valle, spokesperson of Save Our Schools Network in Southern Mindanao.
"It's a go signal to intensify the attacks."
Duterte has been known for supporting the indigenous peoples in the past. As mayor he appointed deputy mayors from 11 tribes residing in Davao. In 2015, he intervened through dialogues to ask the military to pull out their troops to ensure Lumad evacuees such as the students from Talaingod and Kapalong, can return safely to their communities and resume their life and education. Duterte even gave the Lumad children a special treat, a trip to a beach for a swim before heading home.
But that was then. Now Duterte is echoing the lines from the military who suspect why Lumad schools are up in the mountains. Duterte’s warning is no different from the calls of the paramilitary group Alamara in Talaingod that warned of burning down schools. It is also no different from the Magahat paramilitary in Lianga, Surigao del Sur who warned of killing teachers, in fact they did so in 2015.
But one church worker counters the military’s argument. The Lumads lived in the mountains for generations, how can you call them illegal?
Valle said Duterte has been fed "misinformation” from the Armed Forces. He said there 221 Lumad schools in Mindanao ran by NGOs and religious missionaries; they are legal, recognized by tribal leaders and obtained permits from the Department of Education to implement the Indigenous People's Education Program serving 2,200 Lumad students.
Other groups have also come to the defense of Lumad children. Human Rights Watch said this order constitutes a war crime that can be tried internationally for targeting civilians and schools. Catholic, Protestant and Aglipayan bishops appealed that peace talks with the communists should resume as this is the better alternative to resolve the root cause of the armed conflict.
ACT Teachers also appealed the Lumad schools should be protected as they are the ones addressing the need to serve education to the indigenous peoples that government has long neglected.
The Lumads themselves also appeal to reason. Michelle Campos, a Lumad student who lost his father to the Magahat, said it well: “I lost my father already, and you want to take away the future of all the children in my tribe?”