House leader puts up P500k legal defense fund for ‘rescued’ Lumads in Cebu; congressional probe sought

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 18 2021 06:37 PM

House leader puts up P500k legal defense fund for ‘rescued’ Lumads in Cebu; congressional probe sought 1
Joyce Balancio, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero on Thursday said he would put up a legal defense fund for Lumad students and teachers whom lawmakers claimed were illegally detained following a raid at the University of San Carlos Talamban in Cebu.

A day after he delivered a privileged speech at the House, Romero appeared in a press conference with the Makabayan bloc and other majority lawmakers to also warn policemen to tell the truth in a congressional investigation or risk being detained at the House of Representatives.

“I’m putting up P500,000 to fund the lawyers of these minors -- P500,000 to be given to any lawyer. I hope may lawyers na magagaling para matanggal na agad. Our thrust as legislators is not finished till matanggal sila sa illegal detention,” said Romero. 

(I hope there are lawyers that are good so they can be released from illegal detention. Until then, our thrust as legislators is not finished.) 

“I’m pursuing this and hopefully by next week we can call already a hearing. Susubukan naman natin pag ‘di nagsasabi ng totoo itong mga pulis operatives na ito, sila naman ikukulong sa Batasan. We can cite them in contempt until sabihin nila totoong nangyari,” the House leader added. 

(We want to know if the police operatives are saying the truth. They will be detained in Batasan if they do otherwise.) 

Police on Monday took into custody 19 minors from an indigenous people’s group based in Davao del Norte and arrested 7 people, including a teacher, inside the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus in Cebu City.

They claimed the children were being recruited as "future armed combatants." Police also said there was no irregularity in the operation as 6 parents sought their help after their children have not returned home for 2 years.

But Romero maintained that he has all the proof that the students were not being indoctrinated and were actually studying legitimate courses.

“I have here the curriculum of that school itong bakwit school. Itong curriculum na ito is geared towards teaching them… English, science. They are a bonafide school… Hindi pwedeng inculcation of any ideology because they’re regular grade 2 to grade 12 students,” the lawmaker explained. 

“Kumpleto ako ng mga detalye kung ano tinuturo sa kanila araw araw. I have all the proof.”

(I have the complete details regarding what they teach everyday.) 

Romero led other majority lawmakers in joining the Makabayan bloc in calling for a congressional investigation and for calling for the immediate release of the students and teachers. 

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He also described the situation as “saddening,” noting that the police were supposed to protect young Filipinos but did otherwise during the operation.

“Sila pa ang nangunguna para wasakin at takutin ngayon pag pumapasok ka pala sa ekswelahan dapat matakot ka na... I still demand relief of these lawless people na gumanap po dito sa raid na ito (who participated in the raid) and also demand an immediate release of the students itong 15 estudyante na below 15 years old,” he pointed out. 

(They are the very first people to destroy and scare the people going to schools. You should be afraid.) 
The deputy speaker also personally vouched for some of the detained. 

“There is nothing like that some of these people I know personally like the two 20 years old that were mishandled or parang… huwag na maghanap ang PNP Region 7, ‘wag na sila maghanap ng justifiable reason to justify their acts mahiya naman sila sa atin.” 

(The PNP Region 7 should not look for reasons and justify their acts. They should be ashamed.) 

Deputy Speaker Bienvenido Abante, meanwhile, believed the incident was unconstitutional and had described the arrests as illegal. He also called for the dismissal of the policemen involved in the incident. 

“Itong ginawa ng PNP is clearly unconstitutional… Dapat lamang i-relieve na ang mga nag-arestong ito…. Is that now trying the anti-terrorism law?” said Abante. 

“That is to me an illegal arrest… They must be released immediately… Kailangan kaagad ma-relieve ang mga operatives na nanghuli sa mga kabataang ito,” he explained. 

(It is unconstitutional. The policemen who arrested them should be relieved.) 

The Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas earlier in the day said the indigenous students were not kidnapped or indoctrinated with communist teaching, according to preliminary findings.

The students, CHR added, were also not indoctrinated to join the communist movement. 

MAKABAYAN BLOC CALLS FOR CONGRESSIONAL PROBE

Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat led the Makabayan Bloc in filing House Resolution No. 1590 which sought the congressional investigation.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the school in Cebu became a safe haven for the Lumads to continue their education after their schools were forcibly closed. 

“[Ang] bakwit school ang naging tugon para maipatuloy ang naudlot na pag aral ng mga bata dahil sapilitang ipinasara mga paaralan ng mga Lumad. Naging sanktwaryo ng Lumad [ang] Bakwit School Cebu and USC Talamban Campus. Mula sa pagpasara nila sa 55 Lumad Schools sa iba’t-ibang bahagi ng Mindanao hanggang sa pagwasak ng aming paaralan itong Bakwit School ang naging sandalan ng mga kabataang lumad,” Zarate said. 

(A bakwit school is their response to continue their education which was halted when their schools were forcibly closed. The Bakwit School in Cebu and USC Talamban Campus served as their sanctuaries. This was after 55 schools were closed in different parts of Mindanao, and when they destroyed further our schools that lumad children relied on.) 

Cullamat, on the other hand. Said one of the teachers allegedly rescued by the police force is a petitioner against the Anti-Terror Law. 

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“Dalawang guro ang kinulong, dalawang datu at 3 grade 12 estudyante ng CTCSM (Community Technical College of South-eastern Mindanao) ang kinulong nila. Si Chad Booc ay matagal na naming volunteer teacher, isa rin siya mga petitioner laban sa Anti-Terror Law,” Cullamat said. 

(Two teachers were detained, 3 datus and 3 grade 12 students of CTCSM. Chad Booc is a long-time volunteer teacher, who was one of the petitioners against Anti-Terror Law.) 

“Matagal nang tinangkang burahin ang kultura at kasaysayan ng mga katutubong Pilipino at hanggang ngayon patuloy pa din ang pagtindig naming mga katutubo para sa aming kultura, lupain at karapatan.” 

(They already tried erasing the culture and history of indigenous Filipinos and until now we are fighting back for our lands and rights.) 

She said House Resolution No. 1590 was filed to seek wider support from Congress so lawmakers could investigate the incident. 

ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago similarly condemned the incident. 

Castro said she wanted the “rescued” Lumads and teachers freed. 

"Indeed, that is not a rescue operation. Not only is it highly questionable and irregular, it can never be justified. It violates our laws and international agreements on children, schools, religious, educational institutions as zones of peace which must be sites of mutual respect, nonviolent behavior,” said Elago.