UPDATE (May 19, 2021): National Task Force To End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) will be filing new cases against Bakwit School 7, for alleged violations of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act. This is according to a report from Rappler on Wednesday, May 19.
The seven Lumad delegates, including volunteer teacher Chad Booc, were recently released last May 14, after Davao del Norte’s Provincial Prosecutor dismissed the charges against them.
However, SOS Network Cebu still fears for the safety of the 18 Lumad students still in government custody.
Nearly three months after their capture in February, the seven Bakwit teachers, known as ‘Bakwit School 7,’ were acquitted of a charge of serious illegal detention by the Davao del Norte Office of the Provincial Prosecutor last May 5.
National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) -Cebu, who represented the seven, received the release order of the court by May 11. In a court resolution, there was “insufficient evidence and lack of probable cause” to the complaints. The Bakwit School 7 was then freed three days later, May 14.
The Bakwit School 7, originally facing kidnapping and trafficking charges, were detained under the Anti-Kidnapping Group of Police Regional Office-7 (PRO-7), located more than 573 km. away from the trial court in Tagum City, Davao del Norte. With this, the prosecutors cited that the case is “outside [their] territorial jurisdiction”.
NUPL-Cebu commends the junking of complaints to, saying that the dismissal of the trumped-up charges firmly asserted that the “persistent red-tagging of Lumad schools is baseless and unfounded.”
“The indigenous peoples and their leaders have been victims of state terrorism because of their long history of struggle against the exploitation of their ancestral lands,” the lawyers’ group said.
Chad Booc, a volunteer teacher for the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) Lumad school and one of the seven detainees, said that the judgement is evident that there is nothing wrong with fighting back against government injustices.
“Ang pagka-dismiss ng aming kaso ay patunay [lang] na walang mali sa ating [ginawa], walang mali sa paglaban [sa mga kamalian ng gobyerno]. May mali kaya lumalaban tayo, at patunay lamang [ang aming pagkakaabswelto] na iligal ang [ginawang pag-aresto sa amin ng] estado,” Booc said in a press conference after their release (READ: 26 terrified, unarmed individuals detained in ‘rescue op’).
Conflicts in between
From 2020 up to now, Lumads have been terrorized, red-tagged, and even slain by state forces, on top of being deprived of their rights to education. The case of the Lumad 24 was only the latest in a long list of tragedies that have beset them.
In those three months, tensions were high when it came to the release of the captive Lumad children. The “rescue operations” held last February were aimed to “take the children home to their families as requested by their parents”. However, 13 Lumad children were taken to Davao del Norte without parental consent.
In an incident last March, the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Division of the Police barred the release of a Lumad child to their father, even after PRO-7 was ordered by the Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 20 of the child’s release. Previously in the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Region 7 (DSWD-R7), it was only later that day that the release was granted.
In a press conference last Saturday, May 15, Save Our Schools (SOS) Network Cebu Representative Meg Lim said that there are about 18 Lumad children who are still in custody of the DSWD-R7, and they are unsure whether these children are treated well in their facilities.
“Ang 18 na ito na mga Lumad students ay hindi pa rin malaya mula sa kamay ng estado, nangangamba pa rin tayo sa kung anuman ang kalagayan nila roon, kung anuman ang mga karahasan na kanilang nae-experience habang nasa kamay ng awtoridad,” said Lim.
When asked about filing counter charges against the authorities that illegally raided in February, Lim said that their legal counsel have yet to discuss what steps must be taken in the succeeding days.
“Sa panahon na ito, magpapahinga pa rin muna ang ating Bakwit School 7, at kung mayroon mang counter charges na mangyayari, ito ay daraan pa sa mataas na proseso ng konsultasyon ng kanilang mga kliyente,” Lim stated.
Fear is still at the highest alert
In the same press conference last Saturday, a Lumad student named Mech shared her experiences living in Manila to continue their education. She expressed that as a Bakwit student, it was difficult to migrate between places from time to time, fearing that state forces may conduct similar operations like what happened in University of San Carlos in Cebu.
“Unang [beses ng pagiging] bakwit ko dito, [noong] taong 2017, napakahirap, malaki ang adjustment sa kapaligiran kasi mainit, mabaho, maingay, lalo na sa aming security dito, na nandyan pa rin ang presensya ng mga militar, halos kada lipat namin ng building, may mga taong sumusubaybay sa amin, kumuha ng mga litrato,” Mech recalled.
She added that since the unilateral termination of the UP-DND Accord last January, their security has become more threatened as police and military can freely enter their sanctuaries in UP campuses.
“Natatakot [kami] sa bawat galaw, lalo na sa usaping UP-DND accord dito sa aming santuwaryo sa UP Diliman, puwede nang pumasok ang mga militar at alam namin na isa kami sa kanilang pakay,” Mech added (READ: UP strikes back against Accord’s ‘termination’).
Despite all of these threats, Mech called for the government to stop the attacks against their tribe and let them enjoy the privilege of education that they deserve.
“Dito sa Bakwit school, hindi lang kami nag-aaral, nakikibaka rin kami para ipaabot ang aming mga panawagan, sumasama kami sa mga mobilisasyon dahil alam namin ang karapatan namin sa edukasyon, karapatan namin sa lupang ninuno, at sariling pagpapasya para maiparating [ang aming mga hinaing],” Mech said. [P]
Photo from Save Our Schools (SOS) Network Cebu / Facebook