ILIGAN City–President Duterte’s warning to indigenes that he would order their hinterland schools bombed because these are supposedly breeding grounds for communist rebels has rendered the Lumads “more vulnerable to attacks,” Lumad groups said.
The Save Our Schools Network and the Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao also said Duterte’s claim that Lumad schools are “operating illegally” is a “disinformation” coming from the Armed Forces.
The groups said there are 221 Lumad schools in Mindanao operated by religious groups and non-government organizations, serving 8,251 students, and these schools “are partners of the Department of Education’s Indigenous Peoples’ Education Program that aims to combat illiteracy in the indigenous communities.”
In a news conference last week, Duterte reiterated an earlier declaration that he was calling off the talks with the National Democratic Front and admitted he is a “bully to enemies of the state.” He said the Lumad schools are “teaching subversion, communism, lahat na” and are “operating without the Department of Education’s permit.”
“I will tell the Lumads now, leave. I will bomb that place, including your structures there… I will really bomb… because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government,” Duterte warned.
Fr. Raymond Ambray, assistant parish priest of Lingig, Surigao del Sur, said the warning was “an utter disregard of human rights.”
“Lumads are people, too, whom he swore to serve and protect. In the hinterlands, there are not only lives of the Lumads but thriving communities despite government’s neglect,” said Ambray who was on fieldwork last month in a Lumad school in Surigao del Sur where residents fled their villages early this month. They were also among those who evacuated to Tandag City when Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Lumad school Alternative Learning Center for Agricultureal and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, was killed along with two Lumad leaders in a dawn attack by the Magahat Bagani on Sept. 1, 2015.
The evacuees returned to their village after a year.
Ambray said the Lumads’ only fault is that “they cannot leave their land.”
“Bombing them creates cloud of doubt not only to the legitimacy of the state but also to the capacity of this administration to make a moral decision.” Ambray said “Why not go back to the negotiating table? How can a government refuse to dialogue?”
Rius Valle, spokesperson of Save Our Schools Network, said Duterte may have been angry and he is “short-tempered as we know but to bomb Lumad schools? This is too much.”
“The last thing the children want to hear from him is this. There is no justification for what he said,” Valle said, adding that Duterte’s warning is alarming because “it gives a go-signal to the AFP to intensify their attacks on Lumad schools.”
Valle said that a day after Duterte’s warning, four members of the paramilitary group Alamara, also composed of Lumads and also allegedly backed up by the military, threatened to burn down a Lumad school in Sitio Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
The four were allegedly looking for Lando Dalin, a student, Benancio Dalin, Benjo Bay-ao and Nonoy Dawsay–all members of the Parents-Teachers Community Association–and warned they would burn the Salugpongan Community school if they could not kill at least one of the four named.
Classes were suspended “while parents are now gathered inside the school to protect it,” Valle said.
Valle noted that even before Duterte’s warning, Lumad schools were “relentlessly attacked” in the last 12 months of the Duterte administration.
He said 89 Lumad schools were affected, and that the harassments intensified in February, when the unilateral ceasefire of the government and NDF were lifted” and since the declaration of martial law in May.
Part of the Joint Statement of SOS Network and Pasaka reads: “Does he have the heart for the Lumads of Mindanao who will lose their lives, homes, schools, their ancestral lands with the absence of peace talks and respect to indigenous peoples’ rights?”
They also appealed to Duterte to “return to the peace negotiating table and enforce the international humanitarian law that ensures protection of schools from military occupation.” (carolyn o. arguillas of mindanews)