CHR: No evidence of ‘lumad’ kids’ indoctrination
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday said it found “no evidence” that the 19 Manobo children “rescued” by armed policemen from the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu City had been indoctrinated in communist thought or coerced to be there, contrary to police claims.
No less than a Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) worker assigned to the children “categorically stated that the children were never indoctrinated,” Leo Villarino, CHR chief investigator for Central Visayas, told the Inquirer. Even the parents who originally sought the DSWD’s help in getting reunited with their children said they never expressed concern that they were being recruited by communist rebels, Villarino added.
The CHR wrapped up the first phase of its investigation of the Feb. 15 raid by Philippine National Police and DSWD personnel on a retreat house on USC’s Talamban campus.
Videos of the “rescue” mission, which were posted online, showed the Manobo children, their teachers and “lumad” (indigenous peoples) leaders screaming and crying while being taken away by the armed policemen.
Lawmakers have denounced the raid and sought a House inquiry into the “Gestapolike” police operation. They also called for the relief of all policemen involved in the raid and the release of the students and their companions.
Several rights groups on Thursday also demanded the immediate release of those arrested and to stop the harassment and Red-tagging of indigenous peoples.
Human Rights Watch and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines sought the demilitarization of indigenous schools and the protection of the lumad children’s right to education.
The PNP claimed that the Manobo children were being recruited into the communist movement as warriors and that six parents from Talaingod, Davao del Norte, had sought the help of authorities to get their children back.
The 19 “rescued” children were taken into DSWD custody while two volunteer teachers and five lumad leaders were arrested and charged by the police with kidnapping, child abuse and human trafficking.
Named respondents in the police complaint filed in the Davao City Prosecutors’ Office were teachers Chad Ramirez Booc, 27, and Roshelle Mae Porcadilla, 21, and lumad leaders Benito Bay-Ao, 54; Segundo Melong, 55; Esmelito Paumba Torebawan, 19; Jomar Manliquez Binag, 21; and Moddie Langayed Mansumoy-at.
1Pacman Rep. Michael Romero on Thursday offered a P500,000 legal fund for the lawyers of the Manobo students and teachers.
Romero, an ally of President Duterte in the House of Representatives, also joined as coauthor of the Makabayan bloc’s House Resolution No. 1590, calling for an investigation into the incident.
During an online press briefing, Romero presented a copy of the curriculum for the minors, saying there was not even a single subject that teaches “inculcation of any ideology.”
“There is no terrorism and inculcation of communist ideals if I may be that frank. There is nothing like that,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo, police director for Central Visayas, said the children would undergo stress debriefing by social workers before they were transported back to Davao del Norte next week.
Villarino said the parents’ “bone of contention” was that they “consented that the children be taken [to] Davao [by] one of the teachers, whom they trusted.”
“They did not know nor agreed that the children end up in Cebu,” he said.
The children were among those displaced by mining issues in their hometown in Talaingod.
With their schooling disrupted, the parents “agreed that the children be taken by a teacher who’s familiar to them … because they knew the kids needed to study, which is not possible because of the communist insurgency,” Villarino said.
He said it was still unclear how the children ended up in Cebu City. But he said they traveled to different locations first before settling down at USC.
But “definitely, on the topic of whether they were forced or taught to rebel against the government, there was none,” Villarino said.
He said it was also too early to determine whether police abuses were committed during the raid. Based on the videos alone, the CHR could only conclude that there was chaos, he said.
“If you saw the video, that was not a rescue operation. It was an act of violence and terrorism against innocent young children and teachers,” said Nueva Ecija Rep. Ria Vergara, who also joined as coauthor of the Makabayan bloc’s resolution.
“If they can do this to defenseless people, how about for others, for our children? Do we need to wait that this will also happen to our children?” she asked at an online press briefing on Thursday.
She joined Romero in calling on the Philippine National Police chief, Gen. Debold Sinas, to hold the policemen involved in the raid accountable.
Deputy Speaker Benny Abante said the police operation was “clearly unconstitutional.”
“That to me is an illegal arrest. That to me is unconstitutional and the arrested individuals must be released immediately,” he said during the press briefing.
He asked whether the PNP was showing the public an example of how the antiterrorism law would be applied.
Abante, who opposed the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, said these “illegal” acts by the police “should not happen in a peaceful and democratic nation” like the Philippines. —WITH REPORTS FROM NESTOR CORRALES, NESTLE SEMILLA AND DALE ISRAEL
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