The state and its agents called it a rescue. Lumads and progressives called it an attack.
One Bakwit School in Cebu faced the combined wrath of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police Police Regional Office-7 (PNP PRO-7), and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), with the aid of paramilitary elements of Alamara, last February 15.
In what the state claimed as a “rescue operation” from being trained as child rebel soldiers in University of San Carlos (USC) Talamban Campus in Cebu City, 26 unarmed Lumad students and elders, and even teachers were left terrified rather than safe. Now, the informally named Lumad 26 remained in captivity.
“The police and DSWD claimed they were “rescuing” the Lumad children, as they brought parents all the way from Talaingod to Cebu. But from whom are they being rescued from?” Save Our Schools (SOS) Network said in their latest update today, explaining that even now, they still have no word where the 25 Bakwit School constituents are.
Lumad families seek refuge in different parts of the country, particularly in university campuses, due to the constant, looming threat of being bombed supporters of the Duterte administration, under the impression that they were breeding grounds for armed communist activities.
The network also explained that the Lumads have been driven out of their ancestral lands by private corporations seeking to exploit the natural resources of their homes.
“Lumads have been forced off of their homes to make way for mining companies and plantations. Their schools have been bombed, burnt, and shot into. Because of this, schools have been set up in churches and universities across the Philippines to offer students sanctuary and a place to continue their education. Yet the attacks continue,” they continued.
In addition to being barred from legal counsel and visitors, they were later said to be detained at the Police Regional Office 7 (PRO-7) in Cebu City. As of today, the detained Lumad students and teachers are being held under the Anti-Kidnapping Group of PRO-7 while the minors were turned over to the DSWD.
Second time around
Among the 26 detained was UP Diliman graduate and human rights activist volunteer Chad Booc.
More recognized as a volunteer for Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) Lumad school, Booc endured several times being branded as a communist or a terrorist on social media prior to his arrest. He was one of the petitioners working against the Terror Law.
This was not his first being detained, however, as Booc was put behind bars in 2017 after he and seven other individuals protested against the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao during a congressional session on the Marawi Siege. They were charged with “disturbance of proceedings” under Article 144 of the Revised Penal Code.
National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), who will stand as the legal counsel of the Lumad 26, said that numerous charges will be filed against the arrested individuals, including “kidnapping and serious illegal detention” under Republic Act (RA) 7610 (Protection on Children Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act) and RA 9208 (Anti-Human Trafficking Act of 2003).
The so-called “rescue operation” came to the surprise of Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) Philippines Southern Province Chapter who were the ones to give shelter and necessities to the Bakwits situated within Cebu City during this COVID-19 pandemic.
In a joint statement, they and the USC administration “clarified surrounding facts” in relation to the raid yesterday. SVD hosted 42 Bakwit in their retreat houses that are accessible near the USC Talamban Campus on March 11 back in 2020. They were supposed to complete their modular learning by April 3.
On March 13, 2020, the Cebu City local government unit (LGU) placed restrictions in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, thus barring the Lumad community from returning to their indigenous homes. Since then, the SVD sheltered the Lumad community and provided their necessities and facilities.
The SVD and USC condemned the said raid that involved the presence of the state forces.
“While the Archdiocese of 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,” the statement reads.
The joint statement also proved that the Lumad community living within their vicinity is well-treated and cared for, hence, the term ‘rescue’ is not appropriate.
“Here, no rescue need ever be conducted because the presence of the Lumads in the retreat house was for their welfare and well-being, and all throughout [their stay], they were nurtured, cared for, and treated with their best interest in mind,” they said.
Meanwhile, SOS Network condemned the continued involvement of the United States of America’s government in local affairs
“Obama, Trump, and now Biden have shifted the “War on Terror” to the shores of the Philippines, which has in turn intensified the accusations of terrorism on indigenous, activist, religious, and educational entities like Lumad schools. The real acts of terror have been committed by the Philippine government and sponsored by the US,” the group explained, asking for willing individuals to donate to Lumad advocacy groups and to remain updated on developments. [P]
Photo from Save Our Schools Network Cebu / Facebook