CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 September 2017

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Duterte promises to bomb schools

MANILA (UCAN): A threat from the president of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, to bomb a tribal school in the southern part of the country, which he accused of giving children subversive ideas, has provoked a hostile reaction.
 
Even the threat of bombing a school is described as an act of barbarism and a war crime under international law, but this did not deter the rampaging president, whose disdain for the law was evident during his State of the Nation Address on July 24.
 
Although tribal schools have long been subjected to violence by military and paramilitary groups, presidents have always at least feigned disdain and claimed to have had nothing to do with the atrocities that have been committed against teachers, community leaders and the children themselves.
 
At a media briefing on July 26, Duterte urged tribal people to leave the schools. “I will bomb them,” he promised, adding that the schools are “teaching subversion… Communism.”
 
Then, just in case he had been misunderstood or not taken seriously, he repeated, “I will really bomb all of them because you’re operating illegally and you’re teaching children to rebel against the government.”
 
The Rural Missionaries of The Philippines, an organisation of Catholic religious missionaries that has built some of the schools, said the presidential threat will definitely have an impact on tribal schools.
 
Aileen Villarosa, an advocacy coordinator for the group, said its own schools are already under attack because of these accusations. “What aggravates the situation is his statement that he takes responsibility for all the actions of state forces,” Villarosa said.
 
Eule Rico Bonganay, the secretary-general of the children’s rights group, Salinlahi, said the president’s statement poses “a serious threat to the already severe human rights conditions and attacks on schools in Mindanao.”
 
He queried, “What could be worse than what can be taken as an open command from the chief executive with sheer impunity on the genocide of our indigenous people?”
 
He described Duterte’s statement as adding salt to the wounds of tribal people, especially children whose education has been disrupted by military operations in Mindanao.
 
Nardy Sabino, the secretary-general of the Promotion of Church People’s Response, denounced the presidential statement as being reckless and irresponsible.
 
Sabino said Duterte should retract his statement.
 
In 2015, three tribal leaders, including the head of a tribal school in the province of Surigao del Sur, were killed by a military backed militia that claimed the school was supporting Communist insurgents.
 
In a statement on July 26, Human Rights Watch urged The Philippines to “sign a safe schools declaration, not threaten students.”
 
Carlos Conde, a researcher for the group in Asia, said that by calling for an attack on schools, Duterte is directing the military to commit war crimes.
 
“International humanitarian law, the laws of war, prohibit attacks on schools and other civilian structures unless they are being used for military purposes,” Conde pointed out.
 
“Deliberately attacking civilians, including students and teachers, is also a war crime,” he noted.
 
Karapatan says it has documented a total of 21 tribal people that have been killed since Duterte came to power one year ago.
 
Education International, an organisation with over 400 member organisations in 172 countries, said in an open letter to Duterte dated July 27 that the reported occupation of school premises by the Philippine military “violates the right to education of children.”
 
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers in The Philippines earlier raised concern over reported attacks by paramilitary groups on at least 68 tribal schools in Mindanao in the past year.
 
The attacks resulted in the death of three tribal educators during the first quarter of this year.

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