Court acquits Lumad brothers, 3 teachers from human trafficking charges

Photo from Save Our Schools Network

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A year ago, brothers Mawing and Ismael Pangadas from Talaingod were arrested after joining an anti-State of The Nation Address in Davao City, and were charged along with three teachers of trafficking fellow students to join protest actions and rebellion against the government.

Ten months later, on May 26, the Pangadas brothers and volunteer teachers Lerma Lawian, her husband Jeffrey Diagone, and Elenita Elimino walked free from jail in Tagum as the courts dismissed the charges filed against them.

The decision was hailed by supporters of the Lumad school community as a “slap…against red-taggers” in the government and the military that have criminalized the Lumad’s struggle for their right to education.

The Pangadas brothers and teachers are members of Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center, a Lumad school in the Davao Region that has been red-tagged in the previous Duterte administration and was eventually shut down in 2018.

They were charged with trafficking students “rescued” by police in a Lumad sanctuary in the University of San Carlos Cebu in 2021, a case refiled by Davao del Norte Provincial Police with the alleged complainants last year.

The original case was dismissed by Davao del Norte provincial prosecutor in 2021.

Acting Presiding Judge Jimmy Boco of Tagum Regional Trial Court Branch 2 in his decision, said “suspicion alone is insufficient” and such a case requires a “quantum of evidence” to prove that the five accused are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.


The lawyer of Mawing Pangadas and Jeffrey Diagone, Attorney Dexter Lopoz from Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao, said the case was challenging.

“The DOJ has a special panel of prosecutors assigned to handle human trafficking cases. So we had to be on our toes the entire case to be prepared for all eventualities,” he told Davao Today.

But Lopoz and co-counsel, Attorney Manuel Quibod who is dean of Ateneo de Davao College of Law, refuted the allegations in court against their clients.

They argued that Mawing was a minor at the time of the alleged incident, that since he and Ismael were schoolmates of the complainants, they have no “moral authority or sway over them”.

The brothers also told the court they do not know the way from Talaingod to Maco, refuting the claims they ‘transported’ the students.

They also proved that Lawian was not with the students when they were traveling to Lumad sanctuary schools, nor did she instruct them to make the trip.

The witnesses also failed to identify Diagone in court.

Lopoz said the prosecution’s ‘star witness’ testified that the Salugpongan school never taught them nor recruited them to join the New People’s Army.

“We were able to prove in court that Salugpongan Lumad Schools only taught the students Science, Math, English, and farming classes. And definitely, no classes or topics on taking arms against the government,” he added.

‘Angry but grateful’

The Pangadas brothers are thankful for the support they received and vow to continue their advocacy despite the hardship they endured in detention.

“Nasuko gyud ko sa mga namasangil sa amoa pero daku kaayo ang akong pasalamat sa mga kauban namo nga padayon ang pagsuporta ug pagsiguro nga dili makalimtan ang among kaso,” Ismael said in a phone interview. (I am mad at those who accused us. But I am ever grateful to those who continuously support us and who made sure that our case will not be forgotten)

His brother Mawing said their detention in the Davao del Norte Provincial Rehabilitation Center was difficult as he often got sick with fever and colds.

Ismael said despite this experience, he will still choose to continue their fight, believing nothing is wrong in “fighting for their future.”

‘Victory for the Lumad’

The Save Our Schools Network said the acquittal “is a victory for truth and justice.”

Harvey Lao of the Free Lumad Roxas 2 said this victory only proves that the anti-insurgency campaign against government critics and organizations failed to silence the legitimate struggle to defend the indigenous rights to education and ancestral land.

“Dakong sagpa sa estado ang pagkadismiss sa kaso, sa administrasyon ni Marcos Jr. ug ni NTF-ELCAC co-vice chairperson Duterte nga bilyon-bilyon ang ginabubo sa pekeng anti-insurgency program nga anti-Pilipino ug anti-katawhan,” he said. (The dismissal of the case is a big slap in the face of the administration of Marcos Jr. and NTF-ELCAC co-vice chairperson (Sara) Duterte who pour billions of pesos on their fake anti-insurgency program that is anti-Filipinos and anti-people.) Reposted by  (

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