/ 23 February 2021

SOME of the Lumad students taken by the police at the University of San Carlos-Talamban campus in Cebu were returned to their homes in Mindanao without their parents’ consent, according to the Children’s Legal Bureau.

CLB, a non-profit organization based in Cebu City, said the parents of 7 of the 19 Lumad students said they gave no consent for their children to travel to Davao del Norte from Cebu.

The group said the parents gave instructions to bar any move to transport their children.

Talaingod municipal social welfare officer Lorena Bangoy said that 13 Lumad children arrived in Davao City on Monday, February 22, 2021.

“They were excited since it was their first time to ride in a plane. Also, parents of the 7 children were waiting for them at the airport,” Bangoy said.

But Save Our Schools Network spokesperson Rius Valle denied Bangoy’s statement, saying the parents of the 7 children did not fetch them at the airport.

CLB said that the police operation could have been done “with greater prudence” by coordinating with Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, in whose authority the Lumad Bakwit School program of the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission on Social Advocacies was made.

“The children did nothing wrong. Seeking refuge to finish school is not a crime. Authorities failed to have the best interest of these children in mind, or they would have sought a child-friendly way in taking custody of the children,” the group said.

“The children were not in a situation of danger when they were taken from the custody of their guardians, their teachers, and tribal leaders under the auspices and care of the USC and the Societas Verbi Divini community with the endorsement from the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission on Social Advocacies. The Lumad children were in a safe place. It was the quarantine regulations that kept them from going home,” it added.

Members of the Police Regional Office 7 and personnel of the Department of Social Welfare and Development conducted a rescue operation in the university’s retreat house, where the Lumad students have been staying since March 2020.

“Now, the children are being tagged as warrior trainees, obvious sensationalism of the experiences of the children. The Lumad students came to Cebu to continue their education when they cannot access it due to heavy militarization in their places of origin,” CLB said.

“The fate of the seized children remains unclear after authorities opted to stay silent about the details of their whereabouts since the police operation occurred,” it added.

CLB called on concerned government offices to conduct an investigation to determine if child protection laws were violated during the police operation.

“The Philippine National Police called it a rescue, but video clips circulating online show that it was indeed an arrest, a baseless and unauthorized one. There was a serious breach of protocols as children were subjected to a horrendous and traumatic experience of being taken from a situation of safety to uncertainty,” the group said.