President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to bomb Lumad schools dismayed several members of the indigenous tribe Tuesday.
"The president's statements hurt us because he does not seem to value our lives," one Lumad who spoke to ABS-CBN News said.
Duterte issued the threats during his post-second State of the Nation Address press conference as he linked the Lumad schools to the communist rebels, whom he has tagged as enemies of the state for attacking government troops.
"Iyung mga Lumad, they are operating without the DepEd’s permit. Kasi eskwelahan sila, but they are teaching subversion, communism," Duterte said.
Lumad leaders denied Duterte's allegations and said that unverified claims about their links with communist rebels surfaced as early as the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said it was the government's duty to protect the youth not only from physical harm, but also from misguided education.
"President Duterte highlights the need to protect our youth and doing so entails ensuring they get the correct education that reinforces the right values that instill love of country and respect for our laws among others, and not rebellion," Abella said in a statement.
"The president notes that certain lumad or indigenous schools are being used to foment rebellion against the government. The president warns them in the strongest terms to discontinue these actions as persistence will warrant appropriate government action," he added.
The plight of the Lumad was highlighted by the September 2015 killings of Emerito Samarca, a head teacher of an award-winning school for Lumad youth in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, and Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo by paramilitary forces.
Lumad groups, some of whom are based in Duterte’s home region, have pinned their hopes of justice and fair treatment on the firebrand leader, a self-proclaimed socialist.
However, the atmosphere has changed significantly as the feisty leader seemed to have had enough of the communists, who are being associated with Lumad groups.
- with a report from Bettina Magsaysay, ABS-CBN News.