AFP: Military won't bomb Lumad schools, but don't 'brainwash' kids

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 28) — The Duterte government said it is cracking down on community schools "illegally run" by non-Muslim ethnic groups known as "Lumad."

But despite President Rodrigo Duterte's earlier threat to bomb these Lumad schools for being hotbeds of rebellion, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday said this would never happen.

"I'm sure of that. The President is among the most compassionate, if I can say that," AFP Spokesman BGen. Restituto Padilla said during a press briefing in Malacañang.

"Matigas siya, matigas ang dating niya, matapang, pero 'pag ang pinagusapan kabataan, napakalambot ng puso ng mahal ng Pangulo (He's tough, he looks tough and brave but he has a soft spot for children)," he said, adding that the President just wanted to send a stern warning against learning institutions operating without government permission.

"Pero 'yung pananadya na gagawin 'yan, hindi ho mangyayari 'yun (But the actual bombing would never happen)," Padilla said.

A group of human rights advocates pushing for the Lumad children's right to education on Friday wants the President to retract his statement during his July 24 State of the Nation Address, that he would bomb Lumad schools "teaching the children to rebel against government."

Through this threat, "President Duterte openly declared a war against lumad people. He, as the president, vilified and red-tagged lumad schools as schools of the New People's Army (NPA)," the Save Our Schools network said in a statement. The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines which has waged a 48-year-old insurgency, the longest-running armed rebellion in Asia.

Lumads typically establish community schools in areas that are not accessible to traditional educational institutions. Many of these provide alternative learning systems for the indigenous youth rooted within the community's values and culture, but have been accused of sustaining close ties with communist rebels.

Duterte on Thursday clarified he never meant to harm students, but to save them from "perdition."

"They grow up there hating government and going to war pag ka malaki na (When they grow up). You are perpetuating the violence in this country and I have to stop it," he told the unlicensed learning institutions.

Malacañang on Friday mentioned the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) in Surigao del Sur as among the "left-oriented" Lumad schools operating without a license.

"That Alcadev of Surigao has no permit to operate and refuses to get a permit from the Department of Education (DepEd)," Communications Assistant Secretary Marie Banaag said, citing data from DepEd.

'Teach values, don't brainwash'

The Armed Forces warned Lumad schools against "brainwashing" their students.

"It is not bad to teach communism per se because we in college learned about it," Padilla said. "But if you target very young minds, vulnerable minds and try to sway them to a certain kind of thinking, that is like brainwashing. 'Yun po ang mali dito (That is what's wrong here)."

"Why would you want to brainwash a child just because you want them to perpetuate what you want them to do," he added.

He said these schools need to be regulated to make sure they are teaching students the proper values: "Fear of God, love of country, love of family, the appreciation of the correct values that you want your citizens to have."

But he reiterated that bombing these schools is not the solution.

"Kung ano man ang hakbang na kailangan gawin ng ating Armed Forces, gagawin natin 'to pero hindi sa gan'un klaseng paraan (We will do whatever steps the Armed Forces need to do but not in such way)," Padilla said.

Prior to the Duterte administration, Lumad schools said they have been subject to attacks and killings by paramilitary groups allegedly connected to the military, although the latter has denied any hand in the deaths.

Lumads lobby for right to self-determination

Lumad rights advocates call on the Duterte government to respect the indigenous peoples' right to self-determination.

"Lumad schools which were persevered by lumad organizations is an assertion of their basic human rights and their right to self-determination," the Save Our Schools (SOS) network said.

"President Duterte should instead show his support to initiatives of national minorities by recognizing lumad schools as institutions built by lumad people and respect those as sacred to them and their culture," the SOS added.

On Thursday, the National Youth Commission called on the DepEd to "resolve their differences" and "forge an agreement" with Lumad schools to remove suspicion that the schools were used to foment rebellion against the government.

The SOS also urged the President to lift martial law in Mindanao, saying the children continue to bear the brunt of the fighting.

Duterte declared martial law throughout in Mindanao on May 23 after the ISIS-linked Maute group attacked Marawi City, the provincial capital of Lanao del Sur. The island region stays under military rule until December 31, 2017 after both houses of Congress granted Duterte's request for more time to quell the rebellion.

CNN Philippines' Amanda Lingao contributed to this report.