House bloc wants PNP quizzed over arrest of Manobo students
MANILA, Philippines — Progressive lawmakers and some administration allies on Tuesday sought a House investigation into the “Gestapo-like” police operation and mass arrest of 19 Manobo students staying at the University of San Carlos retreat house in Cebu City.
“The violent raid and arrest conducted by the police against indigenous people merely seeking sanctuary amid the pandemic is highly condemnable,” members of the Makabayan bloc said in their proposed House Resolution No. 1590.
The measure was filed a day after armed policemen “rescued” the Manobo minors supposedly being held by communist rebels at the USC retreat house inside its Talamban campus.
In a privilege speech on Wednesday, Deputy Speaker and 1Pacman Rep. Michael Romero called on the Philippine National Police chief, Gen. Debold Sinas, to “relieve all involved in this illegal raid.”
“If policemen involved in these illegal raid are not relieved, this means that this has the blessing of higher-ups. We might have a hard time if the command responsibility might go up,” Romero said.
University officials said the minors were part of a 42-member delegation to a modular schooling activity in 2020, and that the lockdown prevented them from returning to their communities in Talaingod, Davao del Norte province.
In a joint statement, USC and Society of Divine Word (Societas Verbi Divini or SVD Philippines said there was never a need for police rescue.
“The presence of the “lumad” (indigenous people) in the retreat house was for their welfare and well-being, and all throughout, they were nurtured, cared for, and treated with their best interest in mind,” read the statement signed by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, SVD provincial superior Fr. Rogelio Bag-ao, and USC president Fr Narciso Cellan Jr.
Authorities said fronts of communist groups took them there and that some of the minors claimed they underwent warfare training. Parents reportedly sought their help in finding their children.
As of Wednesday, seven had remained in detention at the Police Regional Office, while the 19 minors were placed in the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), according to Save our Schools Network (SOSN), which is advocating for children’s right to education.
Palma and the other SVD priests said they has been supporting the Archdiocese of Cebu-Commission on Social Advocacies (Cosa) project of a “bakwit” (evacuees) school program with SOSN, which supposedly ended last April.
The SVD had to facilitate their return to their province in batches due to logistics problems. At least four of the delegates have gone home while two more are scheduled to return to their province this week.
“The forcible entry and alleged ‘rescue operations’ of the police and military are not new to lumad evacuees,” the Makabayan bloc’s resolution pointed out, citing the 2015 and 2020 entry of armed men into the United Church of Christ in the Philippines-Haran in Davao City.
It urged the House human rights committee to conduct the probe.
The measure was authored by Bayan Muna Representatives Eufemia Cullamat, Carlos Isagani Zarate and Ferdinand Gaite; Gabriela Women’s Rep. Arlene Brosas; ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Jane Elago.
“The minors involved are ‘children,’ period. The threat of violence extends to all children and not just ‘lumad children.’ I implore our brave and upright police officers, in all their future operations to please, regardless of ethnicity, religion and social status, spare the children,” Romero said.
He criticized the police raid as “far from being a rescue operation,” given photos and videos of the incident.
“On the contrary, there was much screaming, cries for help, commotion and struggle … Clearly, there is something remiss in the subject police operation … Clearly, the subject incident led to distress, agony and even trauma to the children,” Romero said.
Deputy Speaker and Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante warned that the incident might be an offshoot of abuses of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
“I am one of those opposed to the Anti-Terrorism Act because it can be subject to abuse, and it might be the very reason for them to be arrested. The new law being questioned before the Supreme Court might be abused,” Abante said.
—With reports from Meg Adonis and Jodee A. Agoncillo
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