President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has built an international reputation on his inflammatory rhetoric, calling for the vigilante execution of drug addicts and joking that his soldiers can rape women without consequence.
On Monday, Duterte threatened to bomb indigenous schools, a human rights violation he deems necessary because they are "teaching the children to rebel against government."
The Guardian reports that the specific target of Duterte's threats were the Lumad people, a tribe native to the Philippines' second-largest island, Mindanao. The president said that the Communist New People's Army (NPA) was waging war against villages in the countryside but were leaving Lumad schools untouched. According to Duterte, these schools were operating without official government permits and were training grounds for rebel insurgents.
“Get out of there, I’m telling the Lumads now. I’ll have those bombed, including your structures,” he said during a televised news conference. “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.”
A spokesperson for the Lumad people told Philippino news outlet ABS-CBN that, "The president's statements hurt us because he does not seem to value our lives."
Lumad leaders have protested the accusations of their people's collusion with rebel forces for years.
The Human Rights Watch stated that international law "prohibits attacks on schools and other civilian structures unless they are being used for military purposes.” Furthermore, violence targeting civilians is "also a war crime." If Duterte was to go after Lumad schools, he could very well find himself in front of an international tribune.
It appears that Duterte is entirely aware that he is flouting human rights. In fact, he seems intentional about it because in his speech he also demanded that the Commission on Human Rights be eliminated. The plan he outlined would require the agency, created under the constitution of the Philippines to operate independently from the government, and the Ombudsman of the Philippines, an institution formed to investigate cases of corruption by government officials, to traffic their investigations through him.
To say this has sinister undertones would be putting it mildly.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Flickr user Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ