POLICE Director General Debold M. Sinas yesterday claimed that a militant group held four of the parents of children from an indigenous community in Davao del Norte whom the police allegedly rescued from a progressive group in Cebu City.
Citing reports of the Police Regional Office 11, Sinas said the four parents were among the eight parents who were supposed to have met with representatives of the police in Sitio Kamingawan, Talaingod, Davao del Norte on Monday for their trip to Cebu City to fetch their children.
Of the eight, only two showed up as the four were allegedly convinced to join representatives of a progressive organization.
The report said the four parents were monitored to have secured a travel authority and underwent a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction test on Sunday with the help of some members of a group that Sinas linked to the communist movement.
The report said those helping the parents even introduced themselves as members of the police.
“Obviously, these four parents were lured into believing they would be meeting with their children in Cebu when they were taken by persons who disguised themselves as police officers. I can only surmise that this is part of desperate moves by the communist front organizations to get away from the criminal liability of serious illegal detention and child exploitation,” he said.
However, one of the parents of 19 students who were “rescued” during a police operation from a “bawkit” school at the University of San Carlos (USC) in Balamban, Cebu City last Feb. 15 belied accusations that their children were kidnapped and taken to Cebu from their place in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Lorena Mandacawan told a press conference at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Evacuation Center in Davao City on Wednesday that they consented to sending their children to study in Cebu after the government forcibly closed their schools in their hometown.
Mandacawan is a member of the Parents and Teachers Association of the Salugpongan Community Learning Center.
The military has accused Salugpongan schools and other learning institutions for Lumad in Mindanao as fronts for recruitment into the New People’s Army (NPA).
Mandacawan recalled that parents brought their children to Davao City to continue their schooling and signed a “parent’s consent” in 2019 as “proof that we agreed that our children be brought by the teacher anywhere since our community schools have bunkhouses.”
She said that the teachers and the Lumad children were accompanied by tribal elders, one of whom was Datu Benito, her older brother.
She said she wanted the government authorities to express remorse for conducting the raid, asking them to respect the parents and their children who wanted to educate themselves.
“Maybe, you want our children to stay uneducated so that they can become like us who are ignorant, so that it will be easy for you to make us sign the papers when someone enters our community,” Mandacawan said, alluding to companies that are trying to exploit the resources in their ancestral domain.
Instead of resorting to “red-tagging” and “harassment,” she called on the government to support them by upholding their rights to education and environmental protection.
In a press release, Sinas said the children were brought to UCCP Haran in 2018 by a Salugpongan teacher only known as “Michelle,” and were transferred to Cebu City allegedly without the “knowledge and consent of the parents.”
He said the 19 “rescued” minors were brought from different parts Mindanao by members of the Salugpongan school “purportedly to undergo alternative learning” but were actually “undergoing some form of radicalization and revolutionary warfare indoctrination.”
He said the operation resulted in the arrest of seven persons who are now facing charges of kidnapping with serious illegal detention and trafficking in persons.
Mandacawan said the Lumad communities initiated the building of their schools in Barangays Palma Gil, Sto Niño, and Dagohoy in Talaingod to provide education for their children who have been deprived of it after the local government refused to support them.
She said they never supported the NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Rorelyn Mandacawan, a Salugpongan school graduate who is now Sabokohan Unity of Lumad Women spokesperson, said Lumad children and their teachers had been subjected to harassment even before President Rodrigo Duterte heightened efforts to suppress the communist movement.
She said their schools were bombed and peppered with bullets and some of their teachers and students were gunned down, leaving many of them traumatized.
“We went to the city ourselves to study… because that’s our basic right as students. We don’t want only those students in the city to study. Come to think of it, Lumad students are just the same as the students in the city. We also want to learn so that we don’t become like our parents who never got the chance to study, cannot even read, cannot recognize letter A or Letter B. That makes us want to study even more because our tribe has high hopes for us, to govern our communities as leaders someday,” she said.
Videos of the “rescue” mission posted online showed the children and their companions yelling and crying while being taken away by the raiding team.
The Commission on Human Rights meanwhile said it found no evidence the children were indoctrinated in communist thought or forced to be at the USC campus, contrary to police claims.
The Makabayan bloc in Congress and other lawmakers have sought a House inquiry into the “Gestapolike” police operation.
Sinas said, police and social welfare authorities in the regio have been exerting effort to locate all parents of the children to obtain their sworn statements.
“These Lumad parents need to go to Cebu because their rescued minor children will only be released to them, and will only be allowed to travel back to Davao accompanied by their parents or guardians. However, the lumad children are back in Davao now and there is no way the parents would be able to meet them im Cebu,” he said.
The report said six arents earlier travelled to Cebu City to accompany their rescued children back to Davao and only six of the children and their parents were able to return on Sunday after the Children’s Legal Bureau cancelled the travel of seven others.
But the social workers from Cebu and Davao, together with the tribal leaders worked together to bring the Talaingod children to Davao where they could supposedly meet their parents.
On February 17, cases for violation of Art 267 of the RPC (Kidnapping with Serious Illegal Detention), Violation of sec. 10, RA 7610 and violation of Section 4i, 4j, 4k and Section 9 of RA 9208 as amended by RA 10364 (Trafficking in Persons Act) were filed before the Provincial Prosecutors Office in Tagum City against seven individuals who were arrested in relation to the controversy.
Those arrested were Benito Bay-ao, Segundo Melong, Esmelito Paumba Torebawan, Chad Ramirez Booc, Jomar Malique Binag, Moddie Langayed Mansumuy-at, Rochelle Mae Procadilla. With MindaNews report
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