Court orders DSWD to release minors ‘rescued’ in Talaingod

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 06 December) — The Regional Trial Court Branch 8 on Wednesday ordered the regional director of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to release 12 of the 14 minors it supposedly “rescued” from the group of ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro and Bayan Muna President Satur Ocampo in Talaingod, Davao del Norte exactly a week earlier (Nov 28), noting it has “no authority or lawful basis to retain the children in its custody.”

The 12, all girls aged 13 to 17 were brought to the Home for Girls and Women in Ma-a, Davao City on Nov. 29 while the two boys were brought to the DSWD shelter in Tagum City.

Castro, Ocampo and 16 others from the National Solidarity Mission, were detained evening of November 28 after they were stopped at a checkpoint for “illegally transporting the minors” according to the military and police. The group claimed they “rescued” the children from alleged harassment of a paramilitary group. The next morning, the Talaingod Municipal Station through its police chief, filed a complaint against them for alleged kidnapping, human trafficking and child abuse.

The Court ruled on the petition filed December 3 by the parents and guardians, assisted by the Ateneo Legal Aid Office, for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus “for the production and release of the living bodies ” of the 12 girls after the DSWD did not turn over their children to them when they fetched them last Saturday.

The parents had traveled to Davao City from Talaingod; Arakan in North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Molave in Zamboanga del Sur, supposedly to fetch them.

Another habeas corpus petition for the releaseof the two boys in Tagum is expected to be filed in that city.

According to the three-page ruling of Presiding Judge Glenn Aquino dated December 5, the DSWD through its counsel, made of record that in taking the children under its custody and care, the DSWD “was merely acting in accordance with its mandate, under Section 28 of RA 7610 to take Protective Custody over the minors.”

But Aquino said that it also appears from the declarations in open court of the representatives of the DSWD that the minors were merely referred to the DSWD Home for Girls and Women by the Municiapl Social Welfare and Development Officer of Talaingod, so that a “parenting assessment may be conducted, the basis, or reason for which assessment was not duly shown.”

“No authority or lawful basis”

The Court said the respondent DSWD “has no authority or lawful basis to retain the children in its custody, let alone, to deprive the petitioners, who are the parents or lawful guardians of such children, of their custody and care.”

The Court ruled that since the court’s primary consideration is the “paramount interest of the children, they should be “released from custody of the respondent and returned to the custody and care of their respective parents or lawful guardians.”

The Court granted ordered DSWD regional diretor Mercedita Jabagat to “immediately release” the children and “return each of them” to their parents and guardians.

Of the 12 girls, seven are aged 17, all in senior high school, Grade 11 at the Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao, Inc. in Maco, Compostela Valley “doing OJT (on the job) practice teaching” at the Salugpongan Community Learning Center, Sitio Dulyan campus in Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod in Davao del Norte.

The five others — two aged 13, two aged 15 and one aged 17 — are Grade 7 students of the Salugpongan Community Learning Center, Sitio Nasilaban campus in Barangay Palma Gil also in Talaingod.

High school students

In their petition, the parents and guardians said the detention of the children by the DSWD was “not for the best interest of the girls but they are held illegally so that the military and the police will have control of their movements and extract coerced and false testimonies form the girls which they will use against the Solidarity Mission Group who undertook the rescue.”

They also maintained that the children were “high school students and not members nor have been recruited by any armed or terrorist group or lawless elements, like the NPA, ASG, etc. The children are not also criminal offenders but bona fide students/learners of the aforementioned Lumad schools.”

The petition added that contrary to the claim of the military and police, the National Solidarity Mission “did not traffic, kidnap, abuse, brainwash, manipulate, deny custody, deprive liberty and take advantage” of the children but “rescued” them “from harassments and threats by the Alamara group and the military.”

They said their schooling was disrupted as these harassments and threats were “no longer bearable and became relentless. They have to leave for their safety.”

Three days, seven days 

Provincial Prosecutor Norman Solis on Nov. 29 found probable cause in the child abuse case against the Talaingod 18 — Castro and Ocampo, four Protestant pastors, two members of the ACT party-list, the executive director of the Salugpongan school and nine of its teachers — and  gave them 10 days to file their counter-affidavits for all three cases and recommended bail of 80,000 pesos each or 1.44 million pesos.

They were freed Saturday evening (December 1) after posting bail.

Castro’s and Ocampo’s group were detained for three days from evening of November 28 to evening of December 1 while the minors who were the subject of the claims of “rescue” by the National Solidarity Mission on the one hand and the military, police and DSWD on the other, were held for a week until the court ordered them freed. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)