“It contradicts the proper protocols of handling children. Supposedly they should have been brought to a social welfare facility and not in an undisclosed place.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Lumad students who were taken by the police yesterday from the retreat house in University of San Carlos-Talamban campus in Cebu City have yet to be located, a lawyer said on Tuesday, Feb. 16, in an online program of the AlterMidya Network.
Lawyer King Perez of National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)-Cebu said all they know is that the Lumad students, 16 minors and three adult students, were in a safe house. It is not clear though if they are in a police, military or civilian type of safe house.
“We are still checking the veracity of this. It contradicts the proper protocols of handling children. Supposedly they should have been brought to a social welfare facility and not in an undisclosed place,” he said.
Perez also said that it took 23 hours before they were able to access six others in a jail facility, which is crowded. However, they were only given five minutes, as authorities cited health protocols. They were also able to speak this afternoon to another female teacher in a different facility.
Perez added they are still not informed of the charges against the seven individuals being held by the police. They also do not have information if the arrested Lumad already underwent inquest proceedings.
“We need to know what are the charges against them because there is already news that the Anti-Terror Law would be used against them, some even said [they would be charged with] war crimes,” he said.
Lawyers have not been provided with the incident report and inventory of confiscated items, Perez said.
Perez said it is ironic that authorities are claiming that the Lumad children were being rescued for their safety. But video footage would show that the retreat house where the Lumad students were hosted is obviously safe.
There is authorization from parents
Perez said they have copies of authorization from parents allowing their children to be taken from their community and continue their education somewhere else. This is due to the intensifying militarization of their communities in Mindanao, he said.
He also said that only six parents were with the police when the retreat house was raided.
“Even Lumad children who have no parents were also being taken by the police,” he said.
Rose Hayahay, volunteer teacher in the Lumad bakwit school, said during an online press conference also on Tuesday, that these Lumad students came from the highly militarized areas in Mindanao. She also asserted that there is written consent from the parents of the Lumad children.
“We don’t know what happened especially that areas in Mindanao where the children are residing are remote. Maybe there were bribed or threatened,” she said, pertaining to the parents who came to get their children in Cebu.
Datu Tungig Mansumuy-at, secretary general of Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (Unity to Defend the Land) said that soldiers are also threatening the parents.
“They want to get our children because they don’t want them to be educated. And then they will file charges against the leaders,” he said in Filipino. He added that Lumad children knew that they are being displaced because of the development projects in their areas, thus they remain steadfast in defending their right to ancestral domain.
Not training ‘child warriors’
Lumad student Chricelyn Empong said that Lumad bakwit schools are not training them to be child warriors nor they are being trained by the New People’s Army.
Empong is now with her fellow Lumad students at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. She said they were in class yesterday when the news broke that the Lumad bakwit school in USC-Talamban campus in Cebu City was raided by the police.
“We could not sleep or eat. We are thinking about them,” she said during the press conference.
Empong said that they are not being used by anybody, and that they have come to the city on their own will with the consent of their parents. She denied the accusations being made by the police and the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) that they are being trained as child warriors.
Just like any other student, she said they also study Science, English and Math. “But we don’t just study the theories but also apply these,” she said.
A report by Philippine Star also said that according to the Department of Social Welfare Services, not one child from the Lumad bakwit school said that he or she is “being indoctrinated as communist rebels and none of them mentioned child warrior training in their exit interviews with social workers.”
Empong said that out of the 250 Lumad schools in Mindanao, 178 were shut down. They sought the help of the Department of Education (DepEd) but to no avail.
Meg Lim, anthropology student at the USC, said that the Lumad children, their teachers and guardians came to Cebu City in October 2019. Since then, the children have attended many activities.
Lim refuted the claims that the Lumad children were being hidden from their parents as they have attended different workshops, integration with other students, attended One Billion Rising campaign in Cebu City until they welcomed them to their campus on March 11, 2020.
Lim told Bulatlat that the students only wanted to continue with their education. She said the Lumad students, wanted to be doctors, or lawyers even, so they can defend their fellow Lumad whose rights are being violated.