‘Assault to IPs’: PNP slammed for framing Cebu Lumad scuffle as ‘rescue operation’

February 16, 2021 - 4:44 PM
A photo of Police Regional Office-7 personnel tackling a Lumad member during an alleged police operation in Cebu city (The Freeman/Romeo Marantal and Iris Mascardo)

The University of San Carlos in Cebu City and the Philippine National Police have different accounts on the sudden chaos that ensued after policemen stormed the university during a school program on Monday, February 15.

Students and teachers who were taking refuge at a retreat house in USC called Talamban Campus were preparing to return to their homes when members of the Police Regional Office 7 apprehended them inside the campus.

The USC stated the Lumads were in a safe place and about to return home before the police stormed in. The PNP, meanwhile, claimed that they were being “rescued” from a training camp to be communist rebels.

The Save Our Schools Network, a child rights group that also live-streamed the event on Facebook, stated that 25 individuals from the USC’s “bakwit” school were apprehended.

‘Rescue operation’

PNP chief chief Major General Debold Sinas described the commotion the regional police caused as a “rescue operation,” citing five boys and 14 girls were rescued from a communist training front in Cebu.

“The rescue operation is a manifestation that the reds have been continuously engaged in recruiting minors to be trained as child warriors which is a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law and child protection laws,” Sinas said in a statement.

Sinas further alleged that the 19 children were initially “lured” to enroll in Salugpungan School in Talaingod, Davao del Norte before it ceased operations in October 2019.

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte was the one who ordered the school’s closure that time due to alleged permit problems.

From Davao, the students were then brought to Cebu, Sinas went on. He also claimed that their parents sought the local government’s help to locate the children who had been missing for more than two years.

The PNP chief noted that the children were brought safely to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

‘No rescue needed’

The USC and the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) Philippines Southern Province countered these accusations in a statement on the same day, saying that “no rescue need ever be conducted.”

They also stressed that the parents of the children whom the police claimed were “recruited” were scheduled to fetch them.

“It came as a surprise that reports about minors being ‘rescued’ surfaced today. While COSA (Archdiocese of Cebu – Commission on Social Advocacies) members mentioned that some parents were coming over to fetch their children, it did not dawn on us that the parents’ visit will necessitate the presence of policemen,” the statement read.

“Here, no rescue need ever be conducted because the presence of the Lumads in the retreat house was for their welfare and well-being, and all throughout, they were nurtured, cared for, and treated with their best interest in mind,” it added.

They also further clarified that the place the police asserted as a training ground for communist rebels is actually a retreat house of the missionary group.

The students were part of the 42-member delegate, along with five teachers and three community elders, they hosted way back in March 2020.

The initial plan was for them to complete their modular schooling in April of that year and then return home.

However, the coronavirus pandemic and the strict lockdowns that were imposed to suppress it prevented them to do so.

Throughout the lockdown period, the SVD community provided the Lumad people with
comfortable accommodation, and allowing them the use of its facilities for the Lumad’s recreation.”

In an interview with ANC’s “Headstart” on Tuesday, USC president Narciso Cellan Jr. said that “the so-called rescue which can also be called as raid came unannounced, uncoordinated and in a way warrantless,” reiterating that the children were safe.

Photos from witnesses

The SOS Network, with members at the scene, managed to capture photos of the raid and shared them online.

“This is what the PNP’s ‘rescue operation’ looks like. Manhandling, handcuffing and mauling those they claim they are rescuing, the Lumad,” the group said.

Lumad teacher Chad Booc, who is also a vocal critic of the government online and an Anti-Terror law petitioner, was also reportedly one of the arrested individuals.

The phrases “Lumad” and related hashtags #FreeLumad25, #StoptheAttacks and #StandWithBakwitSchool dominated social media conversations late Monday as Filipinos slammed the police and the military for perceived assault and harassment.