MANILA - The Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas said Thursday that indigenous students who were supposedly rescued from a university in Cebu City were not kidnapped or indoctrinated with communist teaching, according to preliminary findings.
"If based on what we have gathered from the interviews with the students, there was no force or intimidation they were taken against their will, an element in kidnapping," CHR 7 chief investigator Leo Villarino told ANC.
The students, who stayed at a retreat house inside the University of San Carlos, were not indoctrinated to join the communist movement, the agency also found.
"Well, if I have to base my statement now on the pronouncement of the social worker who is in charge with these lumad children, the social worker says there was none. There was no indoctrination," Villarino said.
The agency has launched an investigation into the supposed rescue operation of 19 students, who are members of an indigenous people’s group in Davao del Norte.
Police have arrested 7 people, including 2 teachers and 2 village chiefs, for alleged kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
"We are not looking into the political ideology or beliefs of these children and of those arrested. It is personal to them," Villarino said.
He added, "What the CHR is actually investigating is whether or not during this alleged rescue or the arrested or their stay in this retreat house, violations of human rights were committed against the children and also those who are arrested during this raid."
Videos of the operation showed children screaming as they were taken by police personnel.
"There was a chaotic environment that took place during that so-called rescue, which should not have happened if it was carefully [done] and well-planned," he said.
Police had said there was no irregularity in the operation as 6 parents sought their help after their children have not returned home for 2 years.
Meanwhile, the university denied the children were trained for combat as alleged by police.
The indigenous students were accommodated in March last year upon the request of the Archdiocese of Cebu in support of a bakwit school program with Save Our Schools Network.
The students were 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.