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Raid or rescue? What we know so far about Lumad arrests in Cebu City

At around 11 am on Monday morning, February 15, at least 26 Lumad students and teachers were taken into custody by members of the Philippine National Police's (PNP) Central Visayas office (PRO-7). 

A video posted by the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network showed how the children who were staying at the University of San Carlos (USC) Talamban Campus were screaming as police forcefully took them away.

Police called it a "rescue operation," while human rights advocates called it a "raid."

Refugees

About 42 teachers and students took refuge at USC's Talamban Campus last March 2020.

According to USC, the students were supposed to leave by April 2020 but got stuck in Cebu City due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Among the Lumads arrested were Manobo and Mansaka people. 

They came from various provinces in Mindanao, including Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Compostela Valley, North Cotabato, and South Cotabato.

Often, Lumad people are caught in armed conflict and red-tagged as either members of the communist New People's Army (NPA) or supporters of the NPA.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) often accuses those who run Lumad schools of being recruiters for the NPA.

'Warfare training'

The PNP accused the Lumad school of "warfare training" on the Talamban campus of USC, the oldest Catholic university in Cebu.

"Some of the children told WCPD (Women and Children's Protection Desk) investigators that they underwent some form of warfare training while in the custody of their handlers," the PNP said in a statement.

PNP chief Police General Debold Sinas said those who were arrested were from the Salugpungan school in Davao del Norte. He called the school an "NPA front," but did not explain his basis for calling it an NPA front.

He said the Lumad children were "missing" from Davao del Norte, and it was the parents who asked for help from the local government of Davao del Norte to "locate" the children. 

USC denied that the students were doing "warfare training" on campus, or that they were being held against their will at the school.

"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, they were nurtured, cared for, and treated with their best interest in mind," USC, the Society of the Divine Word, and the Archdiocese of Cebu said in a joint statement.

The city's own social welfare office, who received the minors after they were taken by the police, denied claims the children were doing "warfare" training at the school, according to a report by Philstar.com

No coordination with university

According to a statement from USC, the police did not coordinate with the university before conducting the operation.

"As far as the Office of the President of USC is concerned, we did not receive prior information from PNP, or other government agencies for that matter, regarding their visit," USC president Fr Narciso Cellan Jr said during a livestreamed press briefing on Monday evening.

Where are the students and teachers now?

The 19 students were released to the custody of the City Social Welfare Department, while two teachers, two datus, and 3 adult students are currently being detained at the PNP's Central Visayas headquarters.

One of the two teachers arrested is Chad Booc, an alumnus of the University of the Philippines Diliman (UP). Booc graduated cum laude from UP with a degree in computer science, and became a volunteer teacher with the Bakwit school after getting his diploma.

The arrests were made without a warrant.

While National Security Adviser told reporters in Manila on Tuesday that the PNP had a warrant of arrest, the local police office did not present any to university personnel upon entering the campus.

As of this writing, Cebu City police have not yet responded to Rappler's multiple requests for their side on the matter. 

The National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) Cebu Chapter is representing the 26 detained individuals.

The 7 adults were sued in Davao Del Norte for serious illegal detention and kidnapping on Wednesday afternoon, February 17. The inquest happened after the maximum 36-hour prescribed period to charge suspects arrested without warrants.

However, the accused decided to waive Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, to request a full preliminary investigation be conducted.

This means if preliminary investigation is granted, the accused can remain free until a charge is filed in court and a judge orders their arrest. They can still apply for bail afterwards.

Parents thank the police

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict or NTF-ELCAC held a press conference at the PRO-7 headquarters with the parents of the Lumad minors.

The parents thanked the police, who were standing over them during the press conference, for "rescuing" their children.

During a separate press conference on Tuesday, UP Cebu professor Regletto Imbong, who is the convenor of SOS Network-Cebu, said the children secured all the necessary travel permits before leaving Davao del Norte.

"Their travel to Cebu City had their parents consent. And their decision to join the bakwit school program was voluntary," Imbong said in Cebuano. "We have documents to prove that," he added. – with reports from Lorraine Ecarma and John Sitchon/Rappler.com

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.

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