By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – There is no need to rescue the Lumad students at the University of San Carlos-Talamban in Cebu City as they are about to go back into their communities.
This is the statement of the University of San Carlos-Talamban (USC) and Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) Philippines Southern Province, host of the Lumad bakwit (evacuees) school after members of the Philippine National Police Regional Office 7, along with members of the local social welfare and development department entered the retreat house where Lumad students were being housed on Feb. 15, Monday.
Due to the COVID-19 lockdown imposed last year, students were not able to return to their communities. But with the government’s easing of travel restrictions, the university said plans have been made for their return. Four of the delegates, in fact, have already returned to their respective communities.
It thus came as a surprise, said SVD and USC officials, that the Lumad students they have been taking care of, were “rescued” by the police.
According to the Save our Schools Network, 21 students, two elderly and two teachers were arrested. Among them is volunteer-teacher Chad Booc.
No information from the police
USC President Fr. Narciso A. Cellan said in an online press conference that they did not receive prior information from the police or any government agency of the supposed “rescue” operations.
“While Cebu-Commission on Social Advocacies mentioned that some parents were coming over to fetch their children, it did not dawn on us that the parents’ visit will necessitate the presence of policemen,” they said in a statement.
Meanwhile, lawyers have yet to see the arrested Lumad teachers and students. They were made to wait for several hours at the police holding area but to no avail. They were also informed that the cellphones of the arrested Lumad teachers and students were confiscated.
In a statement, the Cebu police tagged the Lumad school Salugpongan as a front organization of the New People’s Army and that the children were undergoing warfare training during their stay in the said university. They also claimed that parents of the Lumad students sought the help of the Davao del Norte local government to get their children.
Several videos and photos circulating online, however, showed that the Lumad students were crying and screaming as uniformed men were snatching their fellow bakwit.
“Time and again, police and officials mouth the words ‘rescue’ but this disturbed the peace of Lumad evacuees and students, just as what happened in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines-Haran in Davao last 2015 and January 2020. This time the police and DSWD are using the pandemic as an excuse for their impunity to infiltrate the indigenous sanctuary,” the Save our Schools Network said in a statement.
Progressive groups also condemned the raid during the indignation rally at the Commission of Human Rights Monday afternoon.
“What kind of rescue operation involved force and coercion by uniformed elements like the PNP, knowing that these students were victims of forced evacuation amid military and paramilitary operations in their indigenous people’s community in Talaingod, Davao del Norte? The Lumad students were obviously in distress as they were forced out of the Lumad school in Cebu, despite and even with the presence of their parents,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
The All UP Academic Employees Union (AUPAEU) in Cebu also condemned the incident, saying that the “apprehension was conducted in the guise of a ‘rescue operation.’” In reality, they said that it was “a terrorizing operation aimed against helpless students whose screams belie the rhetoric of a rescue operation,”
Rius Valle of the SOS-Network reiterated that this is not the first time that the Lumad who are seeking refuge in other places were harassed by the authorities.
“What they did this morning in Cebu is not new. They are used to this. Threatening parents and forcing them to either be recruited to paramilitary or to be branded as rebel surrenderees. Threatening evacuees and silencing them even in evacuation centers,” he said adding that since 2015, the Lumad evacuees were attacked even in evacuation centers.
CONTEXT: Why are the Lumad students in Cebu?
— Bulatlat (@bulatlat) February 15, 2021
“The Lumad students are there because the military destroyed their schools in Mindanao and now even in their evacuation or evacuation school they are being harassed and abducted. The government will not even let Lumads study,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said in a statement.
Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, also a Lumad herself also said that the raid and the arrest of the individuals shows “inhumane treatment and use of police forces.”
Under the Duterte administration, the group said at least 176 Lumad schools have been shut down by the Department of Education. This despite the efforts of the Lumad schools to comply with the requirements needed to operate.