Philippines’ Duterte threatens to bomb indigenous schools

14:00 • 26.07.17



The Philippine president has sparked alarm among human rights groups after he threatened to bomb tribal schools, accusing them of teaching students to become communist rebels, the Guardian reports.


In a televised news conference on Monday, Rodrigo Duterte condemned insurgents for destroying bridges and torching schools in the countryside but said they were sparing indigenous Lumad schools, which he alleged were operating under rebel control without government permits.

 

“Get out of there, I’m telling the Lumads now. I’ll have those bombed, including your structures,” the president said. “I will use the armed forces, the Philippine air force. I’ll really have those bombed … because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government.”


Human rights groups called on him to retract the threat, warning such an attack would constitute a war crime.


US-based Human Rights Watch said international humanitarian law “prohibits attacks on schools and other civilian structures unless they are being used for military purposes”, adding that deliberate attacks on civilians, including students and teachers, “is also a war crime”.


Leftwing lawmaker Emmi de Jesus of the Gabriela Women’s party asked Duterte to retract the threat, saying government troops may use it as a pretext to attack indigenous schools and communities in the country’s south that have come under threat from pro-military militias in recent years.

 

Angered by recent communist rebel attacks on government forces, including a road gun battle last week that wounded five members of his elite presidential guards, Duterte has called off peace talks with the Maoist guerrillas and threatened their perceived sympathisers.


“By calling for an attack on schools Duterte is directing the military to commit war crimes,” said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch.

 

Conde urged Duterte to sign a 2015 international political statement, the Safe Schools Declaration, that commits governments to supporting the protection of students, teachers and schools in times of armed conflict.


Duterte ascended to the presidency in 2016 after campaigning on his extra-tough approach on crime as a prosecutor and later as mayor of southern Davao city. He has remained popular despite thousands of deaths in his nationwide anti-drug crackdown, and his continuing popularity and the ineffective opposition have apparently emboldened him.


On Monday night Duterte also called for abolishing the Commission on Human Rights, an independent agency created under the constitution. He demanded that the commission and the government ombudsman, who investigates officials for corruption and other infractions, route requests to investigate police and military personnel through him, and laid down conditions under which he would allow those investigations.


Duterte said that if the ombudsman failed to address atrocities committed by insurgents on government forces, “so that you can get the truth and the whole story, then do not investigate my army and police.”

 





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