Central Visayas Police, with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), entered the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus (USC), and took at least 26 Lumad students and teachers into their custody on Monday, February 15.
The police called it a “rescue operation.”
The operation took place at around 11:30 am at the university’s retreat house where the IP (indigenous people) took residence in makeshift educational centers known as Lumad Bakwit Schools since March of last year.
A video posted by Save Our Schools Network shows children staying at USC screaming as police forcefully take them away.
It was initially reported that 25 individuals were arrested in the raid, including two teachers and a community elder (datu). However, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) Cebu Chapter, who are representing the detained individuals, clarified that a total of 26 Lumad students, teachers, and elders were detained in the arrest.
According to the local police, the 19 minors who were detained were released to the custody of the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) office. The 7 adults, meanwhile, were detained at the Central Visayas police headquarters.
The NUPL told reporters they have not been able to to check on the welfare of the minors at the CSWD.
Among those arrested was University of the Philippines Diliman alumni Chad Booc.
He is a petitioner in one of several petitions filed against the anti-terror law currently being heard at the Supreme Court.
Universities like the University of San Carlos and University of the Philippines provided refuge for these Lumad students who have evacuated from their ancestral domains due to armed conflict.
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.
According to Save Our Schools Network, the police “raided” the Lumad school and denied it was a “rescue” operation.
“Time and again, police and officials mouth the words “rescue” but this disturbed the peace of Lumad evacuees and students, just as what happened in UCCP Haran in Davao last 2015 and January 2020,” they wrote in a statement.
“We demand the immediate release of the 25 Bakwit School persons who are under custody of the police and DSWD,” they added.
The Philippine National Police, with little evidence, said in a statement after the operation that the students were brought to Cebu City to “undergo revolutionary training as future armed combatants.”
“Some of the children told WCPD investigators that they underwent some form of warfare training while in the custody of their handlers,” the PNP said.
Rappler called the city police office multiple times and emailed for further comment but no one has responded to our requests.
After the raid, the Societas Verbas Divini (SVD) Philipines Southern province and the USC, who allowed the Lumads to stay at the university campus, released a joint statement denying the students were being held captive.
“Here, no rescue need ever be conducted because the presence of the Lumads in the retreat house was for their welfare, and well-being,” the organizations wrote in the joint statement.
SVD and USC stated that it came as a surprise that police were going to “rescue” the minors.
As of this writing, the police released the minors to the DSWD who are supposed to release the minors to their parents. – Rappler.com
(Editor’s note: We earlier reported 40 individuals had been arrested. At least 40 individuals live in the Lumad school, however only 26 have been confirmed arrested. This has been corrected.)