ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 26 July) — President Rodrigo Duterte’s warning to Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) to leave their hinterland schools because he will order them bombed as these are “operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government” has rendered the Lumads “more vulnerable to attacks,” Lumad groups said.
In a joint statement, the Save Our Schools Network and the PASAKA Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao said Duterte’s claim that Lumad schools are “operating illegally” is a “disinformation coming from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
It said there are 221 Lumad schools in Mindanao operated by religious groups and NGOs, serving 8,251 students, and these schools “are partners of the Department of Education’s Indigenous Peoples’ Education Program (IPED) that aims to combat illiteracy in the indigenous communities.”
At the press conference at the Batasang Pambansa after his second State of the Nation Address and his visit to the rally of militant groups outside Congress., Duterte reiterated an earlier declaration that he was calling off the talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and admitted he is a “bully to enemies of the state.”
The NDF represents the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army in the peace negotiations with the government. The government and NDF had completed four formal rounds of peace talks but the fifth round, supposedly on May 27 to June 2 in The Netherlands, was called off on orders of Duterte “until such time as there are clear indications that an enabling environment conducive to achieving just and sustainable peace in the land” can be had.
In his July 17 press conference, Duterte said Lumad schools are “teaching subversion, communism, lahat na” and are “operating without the Department of Education’s permit.”
“Sabihin ko diyan sa mga Lumad ngayon, umalis kayo diyan. Bobombahan ko ‘yan, isali ko ‘yang mga istruktura ninyo” (I will tell the Lumads now, leave. I will bomb that place, including your structures there).
“I will use the Armed Forces, the Philippine Air Force. Talagang bobombahan ko ‘yung mga… lahat ng ano ninyo (I will really bomb… all your) because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government,” Duterte warned.
“Lumads are people, too”
Fr. Raymond Ambray, assistant parish priest of Lingig, Surigao del Sur, told MindaNews that President’s warning is “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 for his thesis in MA Anthropology and witnessed a mass evacuation due to reports that soldiers and the dreaded paramilitary, Magahat_-Bagani, composed of Lumads, were seen near the village.
The residents who fled their villages early this month were among those who evacuated to Tandag City in Surigao del Sur when Emerito Samarca, Executive Director of a Lumad school, the 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 September 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, adding, “why not go back to the negotiating table? How can a government refuse to dialogue?”
“Apparent unholy alliance”
A month after the attack on Alcadev, Mindanawon senators Aquilino Pimentel III (now Senate President) and Senator Teofisto Guingona III conducted a two-day Senate Probe on Lumad Killings which ended with the two echoing the call of Lumads, church and local government leaders to arrest, disarm and disband the “Magahat-Bagani” paramilitary group that had been repeatedly accused of sowing terror in several towns in Surigao del Sur and whose disbandment had also been repeatedly sought.
Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar told MindaNews at the end of the two-day probe that he was still waiting for answers to critical questions about the “apparent unholy alliance between the military and the paramilitary which the military vehemently denies.”
Odchimar told the Senate probe that he is “baffled” why, despite the military’s denials of an alliance, Marcial Belandres, one of the leaders of the paramilitary group and principal suspect in the October 2014 killing of Manobo teacher Henry Alameda and Aldren Dumaguit, was among three persons presented as Datu in a press conference in the AFP’s national headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on September 15.
He also noted that Sept. 29, 2015 or two days before the start of the Senate probe, Belandres, his wife Gaga and their children, boarded Cebu Pacific flight 5J92 in Butuan for Manila, where “they were met (at the airport) by the military.”
“Now my question is if there is no unholy alliance between the military and Bagani… why is the military coddling (them)?” Odchimar asked.
Nearly two years after the Senate probe, Odchimar’s questions and the Senate probe’s call to “arrest, disarm and disband” the Magahat-Bagani remain unanswered
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 Duterte’s warning is alarming because “nagbigay ito ng go signal sa AFP na mas palalain pa ang pag atake sa mga paaralang Lumad” (it gives a go-signal to the AFP to intensify their attacks on Lumad schools).
Valle said 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.
The Joint Statement of SOS Network and Pasaka said they are concerned that Duterte’s pronouncements “are making Lumads more vulnerable to attacks after he declared the cancellation of peace talks and the AFP continues to implement the extension of martial law.”
It said many of the Lumads supported Duterte’s Presidential bid “seeing his consistent stand in engaging dialogues on behalf of them to demand the pullout of troops from Lumad schools and communities”
“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?,” the Joint Statement asked.
It also appealed to the President to “return to the peace negotiating table and enforce the international humanitarian law that ensures protection of schools from military occupation.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)