DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A group of Lumad school advocates did not sit well with President Rodrigo Duterte’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Monday that implied them as exploiting children.
The Save Our Schools Network was reacting to Duterte’s defense of his human rights records, which took a swipe on them and critics. A part of his speech mentioned that groups passed themselves as rights advocates “while preying on the most vulnerable humans, even using children as soldiers or human shields in encounters”. He further added that “malevolence and anti-government propaganda” are being spread even in schools.
“No Mr. President, it is not the human rights groups that are destroying or terrorizing the nation, it is your NTF-ELCAC and Anti-Terror Law that is leaving a bloody legacy amidst the worsening pandemic brought by your government’s corrupt ineptness,” Rius Valle, spokesperson of Save Our Schools, said after listening to Duterte’s speech.
The NTF-ELCAC or National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, created in 2017, has repeatedly labeled Lumad schools in Mindanao as “rebel schools”, says Valle. This task force has forced the closure of several schools in the past three years by circumventing the Department of Education policies and has led the filing of criminal cases against Lumad leaders and their supporters.
Valle said the President’s speech only attempts to evade accountability and cover up the human rights violations under his administration including the attacks on schools.
“It seems Duterte is describing his own state forces who are disrupting the peace of Lumad communities and schools, vilifying the teachers and students, preying on and dividing the Lumad by recruiting them into paramilitary groups or entice them to sell out their ancestral land for mining and plantations, and force them into the NPA surrenderee racket,” Valle said.
The Save Our Schools documented 178 Lumad schools have been closed under the Duterte administration since 2016. This includes the Salugpongan schools and its 54 campuses all over Lumad communities in Davao Region. Teachers were harassed by soldiers, and some parents of Lumad students had been assassinated.
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The forcible closure of the schools and attacks prompted the network to support the global campaign to the UN Human Rights Council to call for an independent probe on the piling human rights cases in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the human rights group Karapatan also decried the President’s linking human rights advocates to armed rebels to justify the enactment of the controversial anti-terror law.
“The matter should be obvious to the international community at that very point: the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act is not a law to combat terrorism in the country — it clearly aims to target critics, human rights advocates, and defenders who expose the misdeeds of the administration,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
Palabay rebuffed the President’s call for an “open dialogue and constructive engagement” with the UN and independent bodies when in the past, the UN Special Rapporteurs who wanted to probe human rights cases in the country were badmouthed.
.”(T)heir requests for (investigations) are met with threats of violence, wild accusations of foreign meddling, and demeaning insults. The Philippine government even rejected most of the findings and recommendations of the recent report of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and is currently finding ways to evade independent investigation at the UN Human Rights Council,” Palabay said. (davaotoday.com)