MANILA - Former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said he and members of his group were on a humanitarian mission, and not illegally trafficking minors when they were stopped at a police checkpoint in Davao del Norte last week.
Ocampo, ACT-Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro and 16 others, were released on bail on Saturday after they were detained and charged with kidnapping and human trafficking by the local police.
In a press conference Sunday, Ocampo said they were in Talaingod, Davao del Norte to bring food and other supplies to the Salugpungan school for Lumad children. He said paramilitary troops were blocking supplies for the students and teachers there.
They tried several times to get a permission from the local officials to go to the school but they got no firm response, Ocampo said. On Wednesday night they learned that the school had been padlocked, forcing teachers and students to flee.
"Nagkaroon ng communication 'yung teachers sa Salugpungan, humihingi sila ng tulong. Nag-quick reaction kami, in-organize 'yung mission na parang rescue or salubungin at i-safety 'yung mga pinalabas na teachers and students," he said.
Ocampo said they were initially blocked by authorities at a military checkpoint but one of their vans was eventually allowed to pass through so they could meet and rescue the fleeing teachers and students of Salugpungan.
However, on their way to the Salugpungan office in Tagum City, he said they were again blocked at a police and military checkpoint when they were already transporting the students to Salugpungan school's head office.
Ocampo said the group tried to explain that they were just responding to calls for help, but the authorities insisted they come with them to the station where they were told to stay until the morning because the police could no longer escort them at that time.
"Nung dumating yung umaga, di pa rin kami pinapayagan kailangan kausapin daw yung officer... Ginigiit ng ano na nag-violate kami ng ano, na nagdala kami ng minors na walang parental consent," he recalled.
"Hanggang sa nagdatingan 'yung officers. Dumating yung chief of police... Nung tanghali, may listahan na sila, pinatawag isa-isa. 'Yun pala pagkasabi na nung buo na kami, 'I want to inform you na as of 11:30 a.m. you are under arrest,'" he added.
The "Talaingod 18," as Leftist groups call them, was able to post bail with the help of Makabayan bloc lawmakers. Police however tried to defy the court order to release Ocampo's group, claimed Bayan Muna Carlos Isagani Zarate.
Zarate said they will face the charges filed against them but they will also file counter-charges. Both Ocampo and Castro are back in Manila.