The Gist


Police authorities are slammed with criticism as videos circulate online of what really happened behind their 'rescue' operation in the University of San Carlos, targeting Lumad children and teachers.

/ 17 February 2021

On February 15, 2021, the PRO-7 and DSWD raided the Bakwit School in the University of San Carlos, Cebu to rescue children allegedly kept by priests and educators without their parents’ consent. Police officers claim that the children’s parents sought out their help after years of not coming back to their home in Davao del Norte province. Amid the raid, a total of 26 individuals, including students, teachers and Lumad elders, were arrested and are now currently detained by the local police.

However, an upsetting video circulated online documenting the forceful acquisition and blatant harassment of the Lumad community—the very people that were supposed to be rescued and protected in the surprise operation. Thus, reigniting the #SaveOurSchools protests.


After the whole chaos, the University of San Carlos and the SVD Philippines Southern Province released a joint statement regarding the incident. The groups emphasized that the Lumad delegation was enrolled in a bakwit school program in Cebu under USC, authorized by the SVD and the Archdiocese of Cebu. Its 42 participants were supposed to have completed their modular schooling on April 3, 2020, but as the Cebu government imposed quarantine protocols on March 13, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group needed to stay at the retreat house for a longer period of time.

“When the quarantine restrictions loosened, plans were made for their safe return to their homes. Because the return necessitated logistical preparations to be made and entailed costs such as those relating to the swab tests, fare and food allowance, the travel of the delegation was planned to be carried out in batches. At least four of the delegates have so far returned to their place, and another batch was scheduled to return this week,” the statement explained.


As of writing, there have been no further updates regarding the fate of those detained. But numerous groups have openly condemned the operation online, claiming that the police forces worked under the guise of a “rescue operation” to justify detaining yet another Lumad community. This is considering the many years of oppression the indigenous group has had to endure, under what many believe to be acts of state terrorism to get them to give up their ancestral lands.

Many even point out the militarization of the state against Lumad communities as forceful methods to claim their land for corporate development, mining, and the like. The indigenous people have been fighting this fight for years, seeing it as their duty to protect their holy ground, despite of the continual bombing and military intrusion they have been attacked with.

To date, over 170 Lumad schools have been ordered to shut down by the government with claims that they were being used to train communist rebels for the New People’s Army (NPA). These are academic institutions ran by Lumad elders, volunteer teachers, and various religious groups seeking to help the community. However, given the number of schools that were closed down, they have had no choice but to seek education in far-flung areas from their homes such as the bakwit program in Cebu, and more.


As the issue continues to grow on social media, an even louder call to cease attacks against Lumads have been gaining attention. Topics like #SaveOurSchools, #SaveLumadSchools, #FreeLumad25, #StandWithBakwitSchools, #StopTheAttacks, and more, have been trending alternately since the video was released.

At the end of the day, we all just wish for peace and order across the country. And at the very least, we all hope for our schools to be safe sanctuaries where the next generations can be educated without fear of being attacked and harassed at random.

No matter if there’s truth in the so-called “rescue operation” or not, we must demand humanity from the people who swore to protect us in the first place, and end this culture of violence surrounding law enforcement.