MANILA, Philippines — Almost immediately after his second state of the nation address, President Rodrigo Duterte held a press conference where he lashed out at perceived foes, threatening, among others, to abolish the Commission on Huma Rights and to bomb lumad schools in Mindanao.
Soon after, he took back his threat against the CHR, calling it a “joke,” which would not be the first time he has done so.
Thus far, however, he has not done the same with regard to the schools set up in indigenous peoples’ communities by civil society and religious organizations that Duterte, echoing long-standing military accusations, claims advocate support for communist rebels, although his aides have painted his words as more benign than they sounded.
Over the weekend, CHR chairman Jose Luis “Chito” Gascon led a fact-finding team that went to the University of the Philippines Diliman to meet with the lumad contingent who came to Metro Manila this year, as they have for the past few years, to demand that government end militarization in their communities and keep big mining, logging and commercial agriculture out of their ancestral lands in respect for their culture and way of life.
Gascon apologized to the lumad and the country’s 17 million indigenous people for what he acknowledged was the CHR’s failure to respond to their desire for justice but vowed to help build cases for human rights abuses committed against them since 2011.
Interviewed by InterAksyon, Gascon hoped that, like his threat to shut down the CHR, which is a constitutional body, Duterte’s threat to order air strikes against the lumad schools was only a joke.
But in case Duterte was serious, Gascon reminded him attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian institutions violate international humanitarian law.