Three months after police raided an evacuees’ school in Cebu on February 15, 2021, the seven “bakwit” students and school teachers arrested have finally been released from detention. Human rights groups, however, continue to assert that the harassment of Lumads does not end there.
The Lumads had come to Cebu City from Mindanao in 2019 as delegates to a “bakwit” school caravan. Like other batches of delegates before them, the students were expected to continue their education in universities and colleges within the island that pledged to adopt them for particular periods of time.
For the children, to continue education in their own communities was not a possibility because of the existing war between the government of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Their temporary stay in Cebu City was prolonged because of the pandemic, which saw local governments imposing travel restrictions and border lockdowns.
Three months after the arrest of teachers and students, and almost two years into their stay on the island, it has become evident that the conflict that sent Lumad children fleeing their communities in Mindanao has followed them all the way to Cebu.
Here is the timeline of the Lumad school raid in Cebu:
Lumad students set up a temporary school at the University of the Philippines Cebu. This becomes the first satellite school by this particular delegation of Lumad evacuees. The delegation will transfer to St. Scholastica’s Academy in January of 2020.
The Lumad delegates arrive at the University of San Carlos Talamban Campus, where they are allowed to set up the Bakwit School in the university retreat house. USC is supposed to be the last stop before the children, along with their volunteer teachers and datus, return to their respective communities in Mindanao in April 2020. Due to quarantine restrictions, they are forced to stay at USC.
February 15, 2021
At 11:30 am, members of the Cebu City Police arrive at the USC Talamban Campus retreat house, accompanied by social workers from the City Social Welfare and Development Office, the Department of Social Welfare and Development Office- Central Visayas, and the parents of some Lumad students. Nineteen children are forcefully extracted from the shelter, while two volunteer teachers, 3 students, and two datus are arrested.
Among the 7 arrested are:
- Chad Booc
- Roshelle Mae C. Porcadilla
- Benito Bay-ao
- Segundo Milong
- Jomar Benag
- Esmelito Oribawan
- Moddie Mansimuy-at
Police claim, without proof, that the 19 “rescued” minors are being trained as child combatants for the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, within the vicinity of one of the country’s premiere Catholic universities.
On the same day, the administration of the University of San Carlos and the Societas Verbi Divini, the religious congregation that established USC, release a joint statement, denying police’s claims of rebel training.
The university explains that the children sought refuge at the retreat house, supposedly the last stop of their bakwit school caravan, before they head back to their communities. They have only been stranded in the city due to the pandemic lockdowns.
“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 statement reads.
The Commission on Human Rights- Central Visayas also launches an investigation on the police operation for possible human rights violations.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers- Cebu, which provides legal counsel for the 7 suspects, finally gets to speak with its clients after almost a day of waiting.
Porcadilla, the only female arrested, meets with lawyer King Anthony Perez over a day after her arrest because she has been detained at the Cebu City Police Office while the 6 are detained at the Police Regional Office- 7.
Two days after their arrest, the 7 are sued for serious illegal detention and kidnapping in a court in Davao del Norte. While the inquest proceedings take place past the maximum prescribed period of 36 hours after the arrest, the accused opt to waive Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code to request for a full preliminary investigation.
Formerly believed to be in the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the 19 Lumad students turn out to be in the custody of the Women and Children Protection Desk of the Cebu City Police Office. They are swabbed for COVID-19 testing, a requirement for the return of 13 of the students to Davao del Norte and the transfer of the remaining 6 to a social welfare facility in Cebu City.
Philippine National Police chief Debold Sinas arrives in Cebu City and holds a press conference on the police operation in USC Talamban. SunStar, a Cebu daily, reports that, during his visit, Sinas defends the police responsible for the Lumad bakwit school raid, saying the operation was requested by the parents of the retrieved Lumad children. The police chief also reportedly meets with the parents of the minors.
Of the 19 students, only 6 students have their parents travel to Cebu to claim them.
In a video released to Cebu media by the Save Our Schools Network – an alliance of academic, religious, and civil groups advocating for the resumption of Lumad education – some Lumad students claim the police intimidated them during their meeting with the PNP chief. In another video, another set of students allege that their parents were visited by police in their communities and forced to travel to Cebu to retrieve their children.
Rappler has sought the police for a statement, but receives no response.
At around 8 am, 13 of the 19 students arrive in Davao del Norte.
The Children’s Legal Bureau in Cebu attempts to bar the travel of 7 students, saying their parents’ approval has been sidestepped in the planned transport.
The father of one of the 6 remaining Lumad students in Cebu travels to Cebu City to claim his child from the Central Visayas Department of Social Welfare and Development. The parent and child get to meet, but the government agency does not allow the father to take custody of the minor.
DSWD Central Visayas will later explain to the media that a Parenting Capability Assessment Report (PCAR) should be released by the DSWD Davao Region before the next step involving the child’s custody could be decided. The PCAR assesses the competence of the parents to raise their children and to provide them with their basic needs.
In a press conference, Central Visayas police present individuals who claim to be former the New People’s Army rebels to back up their claims of recruitment in Lumad schools. Jeffrey “Ka Eric” Celiz also alleged that the internationally recognized, award-winning bakwit schools have been established to raise funds for the procurement of weapons for the armed communist group.
On the same day, a human rights group in Cebu holds a protest in front of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-7, demanding the police to declare the whereabouts of arrested Lumad teacher Roshelle Procadilla. According to SOS Network, their paralegal team, during their attempt to visit Procadilla, they are told she has been transferred to PRO-7.
When the group arrives at the regional office, they are told that Porcadilla has been taken by Police Colonel Robert Limbawan, PRO-7 Regional Intelligence Division chief. Limbawan denies the allegations, saying Porcadilla has been in her original Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) cell the entire time.
To prove that the police have not moved Porcadilla from her cell in the CCPO, City Police Director Josefino Ligan allows Cebu media to take pictures of the arrested volunteer teacher in her cell. Human rights groups, however, question why, if that was the case, they were not allowed to see Porcadilla on the day of their supposed visit.
The 6 Lumad students in Cebu City remain in the custody of DSWD. The minors will remain in government custody until “appropriate psycho-social interventions are completed.”
In a text message sent to Rappler, CHR-7 Regional Director Arvin Ordon says the investigation into the bakwit school raid is still ongoing. The commission has collected statements from the children, the parents, the police. CHR’s request to interview the 7 arrested members of the bakwit schools, however, remains pending.
“Our request to confer with them remain unacted. We just need to make a follow-up,” Ordon says.
In the effort to reclaim custody of his daughter, Lumad father Lope Haictin files a petition for habeas corpus before the Cebu City Regional Trial Court Branch 20. In the same petition, Haictin accuses Sinas of red-tagging his daughter after she invoked her Miranda Rights during the PNP chief’s visit in Cebu. Sinas reportedly warned his daughter that the invocation of her Miranda rights meant that she was on her way towards becoming a member of the New People’s Army.
(Rappler contacts the Philippine National Police on March 14 for their side of the story, but is redirected to the Central Visayas Regional Office. On the same day, Rappler calls Police Brigadier General Ronnie Montejo, Central Visayas regional police chief, about 5 times, but we don’t receive any response. Two days after, on March 16, we try reaching out again, but still don’t receive any response.)
The court grants Lope Haictin’s petition and orders the region’s Department of Social Welfare and Development to immediately release Haictin’s daughter. Presiding Judge Leah Geraldez points out the lack of sufficient basis for the continued confinement of the Lumad child in the DSWD facility. DSWD fails to release the child on the same day the order is issued.
Rappler tries to get a comment from DSWD Central Visayas, but doesn’t get a response.
After a standoff with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu chapter, the Department of Social Welfare and Development finally releases the Lumad child to her father.
Save Our Schools Network discloses that arrested Lumad student Esmelito “Bugoy” Oribawan is too frail to stand or talk. The network claims to have discovered Oribawan’s poor health during a visit from their paralegal team.
Oribawan, who has also reportedly coughed up blood 3 days before, is taken to the Cebu City Medical Center only after the insistence of SOS Network. Before this, he was only reportedly given multivitamins and hot water.
(On March 21, Rappler tries to contact 7 times the intelligence division of the regional police office for a comment on Oribawan’s condition. We are unable to get a response.)
Oribawan will return to his cell at the Cebu Police Station 5 (Carbon Market).
The remaining 5 Lumad students under the custody of DSWD Central Visayas are flown to General Santos City. SOS Network releases a video of one of the students, in the airport, clinging to a human rights worker as social workers ushered her to board the flight. SOS Network claims the transport of the students is done without the consent of their parents.
On this same day, a Lumad father is supposed to fly out to Cebu to fetch his child.
The Davao del Norte Provincial Prosecutor’s Office clears Chad Booc, Roshelle Mae C. Porcadilla, Benito Bay-ao, Segundo Milong, Jomar Benag, Esmelito Oribawan, and Moddie Mansimuy-at of all complaints filed against them.
The dismissal is due to “insufficiency of evidence, lack of probable cause, and being outside the territorial jurisdiction of this office.”
Davao del Norte provincial prosecutor orders the immediate release of the Lumad delegates.
Lawyers arrive at the Central Visayas Regional Office at 9 am, but are able to see their clients finally freed only at 6 pm. Part of the reason for the delay is that police has had to confirm the validity of the release order. Police also take time to transport six Lumad delegates to the police station where volunteer teacher Chad Booc is detained for the processing of the release documents.
Police bar Rappler from entering the station, but allow local and national media personnel inside to cover the Lumads’ release. PRO-7 Public Information Office chief Maria Aurora Rayos tells Rappler the exclusion is a matter of miscommunication and allows us access.
After allowing the Rappler correspondent in, police raise their voice at her and make snide comments red-tagging her and Booc.
Although progressive groups in Cebu say the dismissal of charges is a victory, they stress that the campaign for the Lumad delegates in Cebu is far from over.
In a press conference held by Save Our Schools Network on May 15, they claim that the 18 children transported back to Mindanao have not yet returned to their communities.
Human rights groups continue to demand for their exact whereabouts, and that they be allowed to return to their homes. – Rappler.com