Police ‘rescue’ lumad kids from priests, educators in top Cebu university
CEBU CITY—At least 19 members of an indigenous people’s (IP) group based in Davao del Norte province had been taken into custody in what authorities described as a “rescue operation” that saw IP children screaming as they were being dragged by their supposed rescuers out of a room in one of the city’s top universities early on Monday (Feb. 15).
According to Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo, Central Visayas police chief, said the rescue operation was launched after parents of at least six of the indigenous children sought authorities’ help.
“Accordingly (sic) these children were taken by group members without their parents’ consent,” he said at a press conference on Monday afternoon.
Montejo said investigation results showed that the IPs, mostly minors, were supposed to be brought only to Davao City in 2018.
Parents, he said, were worried since their children have not returned home since then.
“Their children underwent indoctrination and asked to attend rallies (in Cebu City),” Montejo said.
Charges of serious illegal detention, kidnapping and violation of Republic Act No. 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, would be filed against seven persons arrested during the rescue operation.
Montejo, however, did not give details about those who were arrested.
He said authorities would also study whether to also file charges against the University of San Carlos (USC) which housed the IP minors.
According to Save Our Schools (SOS) Network, the students had fled their homes and ancestral land in Mindanao because of militarization where they lived.
“Their parents were supposedly forced and fetched out of their community in Davao del Norte by the military and the local government to justify this blatant attack,” SOS said in a statement.
The group posted a video of the supposed rescue operation showing children screaming in a classroom of the USC campus in Talamban as they were being forced out by men in uniform.
In a statement, officials of the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) or the Society of the Divine Word, the congregation that supervises the USC, said the religious order supported the bakwit, or evacuee, school program of the Cebu archdiocese’s committee on social advocacies.
On March 11, 2020, the SVD fathers hosted a delegation of 42 students, accompanied by five teachers and three community elders, at the SVD-owned retreat house.
The delegation was supposed to complete their modular schooling on April 3, 2020 and return the children to their communities.
But a lockdown in March 2020 adopted by the Cebu City government to prevent coronavirus transmission trapped the delegation in the city.
“The SVD has since sheltered the delegation at the retreat house, providing them with comfortable accommodation, and allowing them the use of its facilities for the lumad’s recreation,” said Fr. Rogelio Bag-ao, provincial head of the SVD Philippines Southern Province; and Fr. Narciso Cellan Jr., president of the USC.
When the quarantine restrictions loosened, they said plans were made for the safe return of the IP minors to their homes.
The Church officials said the return of the IP children to their communities had to be done in batches because of logistical preparations as the travellers had to be tested for coronavirus first and their fare and food allowances had to be raised.
At least four of the delegates are already at home while another batch was scheduled to return this week.
“Here no rescue need ever be conducted because the presence of luma in the retreat house was for their welfare, and wellbeing, and all throughout, they were nurtured, cared for, and treated with their best interest in mind,” the priests said.
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