In an attempt to clarify a recent threat to bomb tribal schools on a Philippine southern island, President Rodrigo Duterte said the airstrikes would only be carried out when the schools are unoccupied.
Responding to a question in a news conference on Thursday, Duterte said the bombings would be done at night.
“I didn’t say that I’ll bomb those if there are people, so I asked them to go away from there, meaning I’ll destroy those because you are using a school without a license,” he said. “I didn’t say I’ll kill the children. Far from it actually; I’ll free the children from perdition because they’ll learn to be like you.”
He claimed that the schools were operating under rebel control without government permits. In an earlier conference on Monday, Duterte had said he would not hesitate to bomb Lumad-run community schools in the island of Mindanao if they continued to operate.
“Get out of there, I’m telling the Lumads now. I’ll have those bombed, including your structures,” Duterte said then.
“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.” Following those initial remarks, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Duterte to retract the threat of violence against schools, warning that such an attack would be considered as a war crime.
International humanitarian law “prohibits attacks on schools and other civilian structures unless they are being used for military purposes,” said HRW.
It also said that deliberate attacks on civilians, including students and teachers, “is also a war crime.” In another statement on Friday, the rights group said that bombing even unoccupied school buildings would still be a violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime.
The Communist Party of the Philippines also denounced the president’s threat. “Having been rebuked by the people’s jeers, you threaten to drop bombs on the Lumad schools. You threaten to kill the children. You are the lowest of the low.” Lumads typically establish community schools in areas that are not accessible to traditional educational institutions. The community, in the county’s south, has been subject to violence before.—Agencies