“They told me we wouldn’t be released unless we admit to being rebels.” — Lumad teacher
By ARNETH ASIDDAO
MANILA — A Lumad student and a teacher recounted the violent arrest and harassment they experienced at the hands of Cebu police during a House Committee on Human Rights hearing, May 26, Wednesday.
Lumad teacher Roshelle Porcadilla said she was subjected to ‘psychological torture,’ saying she was interrogated almost every day by officials of numerous government agencies including the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“They told me we wouldn’t be released unless we admit to being rebels,” said Porcadilla.
She said the police also threatened to kill them should they would be released.
Porcadilla and six others – two datu, another Lumad teacher and three students — were arrested during the Feb. 15, 2021 raid on the retreat house of University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus in Cebu. They were released May 14 after the Davao del Norte prosecutor dismissed the charges against them for insufficiency of evidence and lack of probable cause.
Recounting her ordeal, Porcadillo said she was transferred on March 1 from Cebu Police Provincial Office (CPPO) to Police Regional Office 7 without notice where she was interrogated and forced by the police to change her lawyer. She also described in detail how she was subjected to extreme pressure and intimidation, with PCol. Robert Limbawan, chief of PRO-7 Regional Intelligence Division, shouting at her to sign documents.
Porcadillo added that the police also tried to deceive her into claiming an affidavit containing false information like admitting they were members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“I have endured so much fear and anxiety ever since our arrest, I can’t sleep and think properly,” Porcadilla told the lawmakers.
Raid not ‘rescue’, no coordination with concerned parties
Grade 10 Lumad student Mikay, 16, narrated how they were forcibly taken into custody on February 15 in a raid on the retreat house of University of San Carlos-Talamban without any arrest or search warrant.
“It was not a rescue and we didn’t need rescuing. What we needed was for our rights as children to be respected and for our calls to be heard. We want our schools back,” said Mikay.
Mikay said they didn’t expect armed police to enter their temporary shelter and arrest them.
“We told them to speak calmly and practice social distancing, but they have already entered and kept shouting while we were made to huddle in a corner,” she added.
She also described how the police tried to stop her and Grade 12 student Jomar Benag from recording a video of the incident for documentation. Benag was one of the seven individuals who were later falsely charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention. She said they were also dragged and kicked by the police.
“We were filled with fear and anxiety at that time. That’s when we started screaming and crying. They forced us even after we told them we didn’t want to go,” Mikay said.
Following the raid, Mikay also revealed that they were offered a P10,000 (US $208) bribe each during a press conference by former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Gen. Debold Sinas.
PNP Regional Office 7 PBGen. Ronnie Montejo admitted the police didn’t have any judicial warrant during the raid but assumed there was some kind of “verbal coordination” with the security guards on duty that day.
Fr. Rogelio Bag-ao also confirmed the ‘rescue’ was not coordinated with the administration of the retreat house.
Bag-ao observed that the Lumad students were having typical classes along with gardening, as opposed to allegations of combat training, and were in contact with their parents through their phones.
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) 7 Chief investigator Leo Villarino said, “If we were only invited during the planning of the alleged rescue, we could have contributed to a more orderly rescue.”
Citing the PNP Police Operational Procedures Manual, Villarino said that police operations involving rescue of minors “shall be properly planned, in coordination with stakeholders concerned” and that a “plan shall be drawn and discussed in a pre-conference with national and/or local authorities” including CHR.
Right to education and self-determination
Indigenous rights supporters and lawmakers condemned the illegal raid and detention of Lumad students, teachers and leaders.
“This is not about communism… this is about the right to education of Lumad children and right of indigenous peoples to their own cultural self-determination,” said lawyer and Save Our Schools (SOS) Network member Antonio La Viña.
Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, a Lumad herself, said Lumad schools were built on their dream of education for their children and economic progress based on their culture and relationship with their ancestral lands.