Children’s group abhors manner cops ‘rescued’ lumad kids
CEBU CITY –– A group that envisions “a just world for children” has deplored the manner 19 children from an indigenous group in Davao del Norte were taken in what police described as a “rescue” operation inside a university here.
The Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB), a non-stock, non-profit organization based in Cebu City, called on concerned government offices to conduct a full investigation so violators of child protection laws would be held liable for significant lapses during the police operation.
“The Philippine National Police (PNP) called it a rescue, but video clips circulating online show that it was indeed an arrest, a baseless and unauthorized one. There was a serious breach of protocols as children were subjected to a horrendous and traumatic experience of being taken from a situation of safety to uncertainty,” the group said in a statement.
Last Monday, Feb. 15, the police staged a “rescue operation” at the University of San Carlos-Talamban campus after six parents from Talaingod, Davao del Norte allegedly sought the help of authorities to have their children back.
Charges of kidnapping, child abuse, and a violation of Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 were subsequently filed against two volunteer-teachers and five lumad leaders for bringing the 19 children from the Manobo tribe, an indigenous people’s group in Davao del Norte, to Cebu City allegedly without their parents’ consent.
The respondents, assisted by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), opted to undergo a preliminary investigation to give them the chance to answer the accusations hurled against them.
According to NUPL spokesperson King Anthony Perez, the cases were filed at the Davao City Prosecutors’ Office, which has jurisdiction over the place, where the alleged illegal acts were committed.
If the prosecutor finds sufficient evidence against the respondents, charges will be elevated to the court. Otherwise, the charges against them will be dismissed.
If the purpose of the police operation is to safely return the children to their parents, the CLB said it could have been done with greater prudence by coordinating with Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, in whose authority the Bakwit school program of the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission on Social Advocacies was made.
“The children did nothing wrong. Seeking refuge to finish school is not a crime. Authorities failed to have the best interest of these children in mind, or they would have sought a child-friendly way in taking custody of the children,” CLB said.
“The children were not in a situation of danger when they were taken from the custody of their guardians, their teachers, and tribal leaders under the auspices and care of the University of San Carlos and the Societas Verbi Divini community (SVD), with the endorsement from the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission on Social Advocacies (COSA). The Lumad children were in a safe place. It was the quarantine regulations that kept them from going home,” it added.
Authorizing a live media coverage of the “rescue” operation is a clear disregard to the required observance of confidentiality based on established protocols, putting children in a disadvantaged position, the group said.
CLB said the Lumad students were terrorized as evident when they were forcibly taken from the safety of their rooms.
“Now, the children are being tagged as warrior trainees, obvious sensationalism of the experiences of the children. The Lumad students came to Cebu to continue their education when they cannot access it due to heavy militarization in their places of origin,” CLB said.
“The fate of the seized children remains unclear after authorities opted to stay silent about the details of their whereabouts since the police operation occurred,” it added.
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