DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 February) – One of the parents of 19 Lumad 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, Philippine National Police chief Gen. Debold 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. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)