MANILA, Philippines – Former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo and ACT Teachers Representative France Castro slammed authorities for arresting them in Davao del Norte, saying they committed no violations.
In a press conference on Sunday, December 2, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said Ocampo, Castro, and 16 others in their group were in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, as a "response to a humanitarian crisis" involving Lumad schools. The group was part of the National Solidarity Mission.
Castro said teachers sought help after the military's supposed food blockade in the area.
"'Yun po 'yung dahilan bakit kami nandoon ni Ka Satur: para po mag-responde sa nangyayaring food blockade ng military at ng iba, sa harassment na nangyayari sa eskuwelahan at estudyante. Ang kuwento ng teachers samin no'ng nakuha namin 'yung mga teachers, napilitan silang umalis doon sa eskuwelahan dahil talagang matindi na ang pananakot sa kanila," Castro said.
(That is the reason why Ka Satur and I were there: to respond to the food blockade by the military and to the harassment happening to schools and students. The teachers we rescued told us they were forced to leave their schools due to extreme threats.)
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Edgard Arevalo questioned the timing of the rescue, citing statements from supposed members of indigenous peoples in the area.
"Ano ang tinatawag nilang rescue samantalang wala namang giyera sa bundok? Ikalawa, paano po nila sasabihing inire-rescue ang mga bata na tinangay nila na wala naman pong permisong kaukulan buhat sa kanilang magulang? What triggered the more intensified checkpoint operation ay 'yun nga pong report na nawawala 'yung anak ng mga magulang na ito na hindi nila alam kung saan nila dinala," Arevalo said in a DZRH interview.
(What rescue are they talking about when there's no war in the mountains? Second, how can they say they were rescuing the children they took without permission from the parents? What triggered the more intensified checkpoint operation were the reports from the parents that they didn't know where their children were.)
Castro said there was no need for parental permission because the parents of Salugpongan Ta'Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center students supposedly already gave consent at the start of the school year. She also said the parents who supposedly reported them only came in the morning following the arrest.
Castro added that the minors were to be brought to the Salugpongan Learning Center in Tagum City.
"Tinatawag natin na boarding school 'yan. Umpisa pa lang ng school year may pinirmahan diyan ang parent.... Ang parental consent binibigay na ito sa guro. So umpisa pa lang talagang meron na.... So emergency rescue operation 'yun, so 'di na namin kailangan mag-ano pa ng time, dahil emergency na," Castro said.
(That is a boarding school. At the start of the school year, the parents already signed something.... Parental consent was given to the teachers. It was an emergency rescue operation, so we did not have the time.)
"Wala tayong vina-violate. Sana maibalik itong eskuwelahang ito at itigil ang atake dahil more than 100 boarding schools, 58 dito pinasara na arbitrary lang, walang kadahilanan," she added.
(We are not violating anything. I hope the schools' operations are restored and that the attacks be stopped because there are 58 schools that were ordered closed without any reason.)
For his part, Ocampo recalled calling President Rodrigo Duterte's former top aide Bong Go for help but to no avail.
"Tinawagan ko si Bong Go, sinabi ko 'yung pangyayari. 'Mukhang deadlock kami rito, kawawa 'yung mga bata kung magpatuloy kami sa kalye na walang maresolba.' Pinakausap ko 'yung deputy chief. Napilitan kami pumunta sa police station para makahinga ang mga bata," Ocampo said.
(I called Bong Go and told him what happened: "It seems we have a deadlock here. It would not be good for the children if we go ahead without anything being resolved." I let him talk to the deputy chief. We were forced to go to the police station so the children could rest.)
"The next day noong inaaresto kami, wala nang sagot sa tawag at text si Bong Go. Sabi nasa Davao din daw," he added.
(The next day when we were arrested, Bong Go was no longer answering calls and text messages. He was supposedly in Davao at that time.)
Challenge to Albayalde
Castro also challenged Philippine National Police chief Director General Oscar Albayalde to personally check on the schools, following his accusations that students were taught different lessons, including another national anthem.
"Lumang kuwento.... Hinahamon kita, Albayalde, sasamahan kita sa isang Lumad school. Mag-observe ka do'n at [tignan mo] gaano kagagaling mga estudyante sa Lumad school.... Maglakad din sya, dalawa o tatlong oras. Okay ba 'yan kay Albayalde? Challenge 'yan," Castro said.
(Old story.... I'm challenging you, Albayalde, to visit a Lumad school. Observe and see how good the students are. You also walk for 2 or 3 hours. Is that okay with Albayalde? That's a challenge.)
Zarate said the group would be filing cases against authorities for harassing them and violating their rights.
The activists were arrested on Thursday, November 29, at a checkpoint in Talaingod town after 14 minors were found in their convoy.
Police filed charges – human trafficking in relation to kidnapping, child abuse, and failure to return a minor – against Ocampo's group.
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org