“Make no mistake about it: while we welcome this victory, those responsible for these despicable acts cannot just rest yet because they will be surely held accountable.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo, ACT Rep. France Castro and 16 others who were released on bail vow to file countercharges against those responsible for their arbitrary arrest and detention last Nov. 28 at Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Ocampo and Castro said it was a rescue mission and not kidnapping as claimed by the police and military.
In a press conference on Dec. 2 at the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) office in Quezon City, Ocampo and Castro narrated what transpired on Nov. 28 that led to the arrest and detention of what was collectively called as Talaingod 18.
Ocampo rebuffed claims that they kidnapped the children. He said it was an emergency as teachers and students fear for their safety after paramilitary group Alamara forcibly closed the Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. (STTICLCI) at Dulyan, Palma Gil village, Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Prior to that, school and food supplies were prohibited from being brought into the community, for three weeks already, that is why a mission was organized to help in the delivery of supplies that the school badly needed.
Illegal arrest and detention
Castro lambasted the police for illegally arresting and detaining them on the night of Nov. 28. She said they explained to the police the urgency of the situation.
She also said that schools like Salugpongan are boarding schools, where students are staying so that they do not have to travel hours to attend classes. “There is parental consent signed by the parents before opening of classes,” said Castro.
Ocampo also clarified the notion that in all hours of the day, they chose night to conduct the rescue mission.
He said the mission team made efforts to coordinate the delivery of goods with the local government so that their entry to the community would be safe.
On Nov. 28, Ocampo and Castro with the other members of the delegation went to the office of Davao del Norte Governor Anthony del Rosario to secure the permit and assurance that they could proceed to the area. However, they were told by the staff that the Governor was in Manila. They also went to the office of the local Department of Social Welfare and Development to also coordinate but to no avail. They also made a courtesy call to Dr. Josephine Fadul, the Department of Education Schools Division Superintendent of Davao del Norte.
Ocampo also called former Governor Rodolfo del Rosario about the matter but the latter did not answer back when he mentioned that they needed to deliver goods to Talaingod.
They spent the whole day trying to coordinate with local government officials before they decided to proceed with the mission. On their way to the community Salugpongan executive director, Meggie Nolasco received a report that the Dulyan campus was already padlocked by paramilitary forces and that the Lumad were already evacuating.
Ocampo said, Nolasco decided to bring the children and teachers at the office of Salugpongan in Tagum City to prevent the same incident from happening at the Alcadev school in Surigao del Sur.
At past 9:00 p.m. Ocampo said, the team that fetched the teachers and students were permitted by police in one of the checkpoints to enter the community. The conflict only arose when they were about to leave Talaingod going to Tagum City.
Someone threw a stone at the vehicle they were riding, which hit the windshield and spikes were placed along the way.
Ocampo said at Sto. Nino, town proper of Talaingod, joint forces of the police and soldiers held them insisting to profile the students. The police and the soldiers told them that the mission was not coordinated with them. Nolasco pointed out the need to respond to the calls for assistance by the teachers and the students who were being threatened by paramilitary forces. They were told to proceed to the police station. It was late night then, the profiling ended at 3:00 a.m.
They were told by a certain Police Superintendent Sison that they could not leave the police station because it was already late. Ocampo said they agreed thinking that they could leave the station in the morning, Nov. 29.
Morning came but the police still prevented them from leaving the police station citing violations because they did not have “parental consent” to fetch the students. Soon higher officials arrived and told them that they were being charged with kidnapping and human trafficking.
“They have not heard our side. They just detained us arbitrarily for a day without explanation whatsoever and then suddenly they were charging us,” said Castro.
Police defying court order
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said that at the inquest, the fiscal recommended P80,000 ($1,530) bail for each of the Talaingod 18 citing that they were being charged with violations of the Child Abuse Law.
On Dec. 1, as standard operating procedure, Judge Arlene Palabrica of the Tagum City ordered that the Talaingod 18 be presented before the court to process their release. However, the police delayed the release. The lawyer of the police also tried to defy the order and argued that the 18 were still under investigation for kidnapping and failure to return a minor. Zarate said Palabrica made a supplemental order to release the 18 and explicitly stated that the “prosecution merely recommends bail, the Court has the final and ultimately say on it.”
“Section 17 of the Criminal Procedure provides: Any person in custody who is not yet charged in Court may apply for bail with any Court in the province, city or municipality where he is held,” the order read.
During the process of the release, Zarate said, the court was filled with police and military forces. Outside, soldiers and police surrounded the court, with some even wearing bullet proof vests.
“This shows that because there is martial law, the police and the military are above the court processes. That they can defy legitimate orders and they can just violate the right of the respondents,” said Zarate.
Lumad schools under attack to pave the way for corporations
Zarate said corporations and plantations have been trying to enter Talaingod which is located at the Pantaron Moutain Range. The government, he said, does not want the Lumad to have education so they could not fight for their rights. That is why these schools, which bring education to the far-flung communities that government services do not reach, have been subjected to attacks.
He said in almost 200 Lumad schools in Midanao, 58 schools have been forcibly closed by state security forces.
Zarate also said the deployment of 56th Infantry Battalion in Talaingod early this year has only divided the Lumad. “They gather the leaders and told them that the Salugpongan schools are schools of the New People’s Army which is not true. This was built by the Lumad people themselves,” said Zarate.
Castro also said the Salugpongan schools are recognized by the DepEd, proof is the admission of Fadul during their courtesy call. Fadul said in the video report of the Breakaway Media that only the DepEd secretary can order the closure of a school.
Fadul said they are happy that there are schools that can help in bringing education to the students.
Meanwhile, Zarate said lawyers are now studying cases to file against the police and the military.
“Make no mistake about it: while we welcome this victory, those responsible for these despicable acts cannot just rest yet because they will be surely be held accountable. The DepEd itself issued a statement that they issued no such closure order of Lumad schools,” Zarate said.