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Anti-terror law petitioner threatened with war suits for teaching IP children

Chad Booc, a volunteer teacher to the Lumads or indigenous Mindanaoans, has been threatened by the police with suits under the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act, after he and 25 others were arrested in what cops are calling a rescue.

Booc is a petitioner in the anti-terror law case, which is set to undergo 3rd day of oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, February 16. Booc filed one of the 37 petitions with Indigenous Peoples (IP) leaders like former senatorial candidate Samira Gutoc.

"Police Regional Office 7 (Central Visayas) investigators are eyeing serious illegal detention, human trafficking, and violations of RA 9851 (IHL Act) and RA 11188 (Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict) charges against the arrested suspects," said the Philippine National Police (PNP) in a statement on Monday, February 15.

The PNP did not specify which provisions under the two war crime laws this case falls under.

Police accused Booc and other teachers and adults of training children to be communist combatants. Police raided the University of San Carlos – Talamban campus on Monday claimed to rescue school children.

A video showed children screaming while being forcibly taken by the police. A total of 26 were arrested from the raid, including two teachers (Booc one of them), two datu, 16 minor students and 6 students ages 19, and above, according to the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) Cebu chapter which is serving as counsel to the arrested. 

NUPL Cebu's King Perez said they were expecting an inquest to be held Tuesday for the 7 adults – two teachers (Booc included), 2 datu and 3 adult students.

Perez said they have not seen any type of document, including an incident report or even a police inventory of what were seized, if any, from the raid.

"We don't have the exact details on what particular charges they're gonna file, and to what extent of participation," Perez told Rappler in a phone call on Tuesday, February 16.

Trained to be combatants?

"The rescue operation is a manifestation that the reds have been continuously engaged in recruiting minors to be trained as child warriors which is a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law and child protection laws," PNP chief General Debold Sinas said in the Monday statement. 

Sinas said those rescued would be supported by the government through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

The Societas Verbas Divini (SVD) Philipines Southern province and the University of San Carlos (USC), who allowed the Lumads to stay at the university campus, released a joint-statement denying the students were being held captive.

"They're not training grounds for rebels or communists, I think we have a strong case," said Perez.

Asked if they were concerned of the possibility that the police might bring the anti-terror law in its complaint, Perez said: "We have not excluded that possibility that maybe the anti-terror law will be put to the test."

The anti-terror law punishes a broad list of crimes, including inciting to commit terrorism, providing material support to terrorists, and recruiting to a terror group. The anti-terror council has designated the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples' Army (CPP-NPA) as terrorists.

"Twenty-one Lumad children were reunited with their parents two years after they were recruited by community organizers in Davao del Norte and brought to Cebu City to undergo revolutionary training as future armed combatants," said the PNP statement.

"We will wait for the formal complaints, we will answer that in the proper forum," said Perez.

If indeed the charges are IHL and Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act, they were grave offenses.

But since the 7 were arrested without warrant, Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code says police can hold them in custody for only 36 hours without a charge in court.

If that timeframe were to be followed, they should be undergoing inquest by Tuesday afternoon to make it to the 36-hour deadline. As of posting, no inquest has happened yet.

"What we know so far is that the inquest will be conducted online," said Perez.

Perez said they had difficulty accessing their clients. They have talked to the 6 men, the 7th was a woman housed in a separate female facility. During our phone interview, Perez said they have not talked to the woman yet. The woman is the 2nd teacher.

Perez said the 19 schoolchildren were allegedly in a safehouse, with social workers and 6 parents who were supposedly with the police when they raided. The PNP said it was the parents who wanted to "rescue" their children.

"They said they are parents, but that's something we have not verified yet.

"Once they are under custody of social workers, it would be difficult to access," said Perez.

Since 2020, the Lumad schools and its students have faced harassment, forced closures, illegal arrests, and aerial bombings. At least 178 schools have been shut down since 2016.

Their accredited schools shut down, alternative schools take them in, called as "Bakwit schools (school for the evacuees)" such as the one in Cebu city inside the USC campus.

Template?

This seems to be a template for the Duterte government, said NUPL Manila's Sol Taule, one of the counsels in the anti-terror law petitions.

In a tweet, Taule said: "Tatak (mark of) Duterte: Rescuing Aetas they tortured and charged with violation of Anti-terrorism Act. Rescuing displaced lumad children who sought sanctuary because the military bombed and encamped their communities."

Taule was referring to Aetas Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, the first to be charged under the anti-terror law, who were supposed to intervene in the Supreme Court case but had since withdrawn after government lawyers reached them inside jail.

Gurung and Ramos, who cannot read nor write, were presented in a press conference by the NTF-ELCAC, where the two disowned the NUPL and the anti-terror law petition. – With reports from Lorraine Ecarma/Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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