MANILA - The police on Tuesday maintained there was no irregularity in the supposed rescue operation of members of an indigenous people’s group inside the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus in Cebu City.
"It was a rescue [operation] because there were 6 parents who asked for assistance," Lt. Col. Aurora Rayos, information officer of Police Regional Office-Central Visayas, told ANC.
Some parents reported that their children have not returned home for 2 years, she added.
Police took into custody 19 minors from an IP group based in Davao del Norte and arrested 7 people, including a teacher, before noon Monday. They claimed the children were being recruited as "future armed combatants."
Rayos said the children came from a Lumad school in Davao del Norte that was shut down by the government.
"'Yong tinuturo nila is against the government as per nakita natin na documents," she said.
(What they teach there is against the government from the documents that we saw.)
Rayos said some children had reunited with their parents and were expected to undergo counseling. Charges for kidnapping and violation of Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 will be filed against those arrested.
The police will also investigate the possible liability of school officials.
"In terms sa school, magka-conduct muna ng (we will have to conduct a) thorough investigation," Rayos said.
The Save Our Schools Network had said the Lumads fled their homes because of militarization in Mindanao. They took refuge at USC as state forces "had threatened to kill teachers and students," the group added.
Video of the supposed rescue operation showed children screaming as they were taken by police personnel.
In a joint statement, the Archdiocese of Cebu, Societas Verbi Divini Philippines Southern Province and University of San Carlos said there was no need for a rescue "because the presence of the lumads in the retreat house was for their welfare and well-being."
"All throughout, they were nurtured, cared for, and treated with their best interest in mind," they added.
They clarified that the SVD hosted in March 2020 the delegation of 42 students, 5 teachers and 3 community elders after 4 other schools in Cebu did the same.
The lumads were housed at the SVD-owned retreat house, which is accessible through USC's Talamban Campus.
The SVD supports the Archdiocese of Cebu-Commission on Social Advocacies project of a bakwit school program with Save Our Schools Network.
The groups said the delegation was supposed to complete their modular schooling in April 2020 but the city government imposed quarantine restrictions due to COVID-19.
When quarantine restrictions were relaxed, plans were made for the lumads' safe return to their homes. Due to logistical requirements such as swab tests, fare and food allowance, travel to be carried out in batches.
Four delegates have so far returned home while another batch was scheduled to return this week, the groups added.