By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Not all birthdays are created equal.
As President Rodrigo Duterte feasted during his “humble” birthday celebration yesterday, a detained Lumad student was deprived of celebrating her 18th birthday with family and supporters in a social welfare facility in Cebu City.
Child rights activists of the Save Our Schools Network arrived at the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s regional office yesterday, Mar. 28, to lift the spirit of the Lumad student, hoping to greet her on her birthday. Social workers, however, refused them access to the child, calling in the police to force them to leave the facility. They were bringing a cake for the child, which the police denied them from giving it to her.
In a statement posted on their Facebook account, SOS Network said that they were verbally harassed by the police, who claimed to have been summoned by social workers after the DSWD’s guard was “annoyed” by their presence.
“The Lumad children’s detention at their facility has no legal basis in the first place as they still have not presented a case for their detention. The DSWD-RO7 can never claim that they have the best interests of the children in mind when even the children’s basic liberties are being deprived,” the group said.
The DSWD’s lack of concern for the children’s welfare, the group claims, is even evident by their blatant disregard of health protocols despite the alarming increase in the spread of COVID-19 cases.
During the confrontation, SOS Network noted that the DSWD’s guard did not wear a mask. The child rights group said the guard only wore his face mask when they started taking videos of him. This, they said, is a health risk to the children.
This is not the first time that the detained Lumad children were prevented from seeing family. On March 11, a local court granted the habeas corpus plea of the father of one of the Lumad children. The child, however, was not released even with the court order. The legal team had to file a manifestation for the sheriff to implement the order.
The Lumad students were arrested on Feb. 15 in a supposed “rescue operation” at the retreat house of the University of San Carlos, where they have been staying since the lockdown imposition last year. However, from the start, the DSWD could not provide cause to legally detain the children.