DAVAO CITY – Members of the Lumad Bakwit School who were arrested or held in custody after a raid in Cebu told a congressional hearing last week how they were intimidated and bribed in the course of their detention.
The House Committee on Human Rights held an inquiry last Wednesday, May 26, on the raid on February 15 led by the Philippine National Police Region 7 on the retreat house of University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus which hosted the Bakwit School.
Video footage went viral that showed police dragging Lumad students out of a room, some were pinned down and cuffed.
Police described this as a “rescue operation” after receiving reports that the Lumad were being trained as communist rebels. Seven persons that include two teachers, two datus (chieftains) and three students, were arrested and later charged.
Raid, not rescue
But Grade 10 student Mikay Haictin, 16, one of those who took the footage, told the committee a different story.
“It was not a rescue and we didn’t need rescuing. What we needed was for our rights as children to be respected and for our calls to be heard. We want our schools back,” said Mikay.
The Bakwit School is initiated by rights groups including Save Our Schools Network that provide continuing education to Lumad students based in Mindanao where 163 community-based schools had been shut down due to red-tagging and militarization in the past years.
Mikay said they were holding a regular class when police officers and social workers barged in their room.
“Pumasok sila at inutusan kaming magkumpulan sa sulok. Walang warrant na pinakita. Pinapakalma ng mga datu ang mga pulis, nagsalita ng mahinahon at sinasabing ‘social distancing,’ (They entered [the room] and ordered us to gather in one corner. They did not present any warrant. The datus tried to calm the police down by speaking politely and reminding them of social distancing.)” she said.
She said police tried to stop her and Grade 12 student Jomar Benag from recording the incident on their phones. Benag was dragged away and kicked in the incident before being handcuffed.
During Mikay’s testimony, House Deputy Majority Floor Leader Crispin Remulla interrupted her, saying she has “been radicalized by people who run the school.”
Minority Floor Leader Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna interjected, saying Remulla contradicted himself when he said he wanted to hear testimony from the ground, which Mikay was giving. “Let us listen to them,” he said in Filipino.
Mikay’s testimony refuted claims by Police Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo, chief of Police Regional Office-7, who told the committee that they launched the operation after six of the students’ parents complained they had not been in touch with their children.
Mikay told lawmakers they had secured parents’ consent to attend Bakwit School because of their situation.
She said they even knew some of the parents would be visiting them in Cebu, but they were surprised when police and social workers accompanied the parents.
“Pinilit nila kami, kahit yung mga kaklase namin na may magulang na nandun, ayaw lumapit sa magulang kasi natatakot sa pulis. Sinabihan kami na huwag lumaban, (They forced us, especially our classmates whose parents were there, who could not go to them because they were scared of the police. We were told not to resist.),” she said.
Fr. Rogelio Bag-ao, Father Provincial of the Society of Divine Word (SVD) which runs the USC, corroborated Mikay’s testimony, saying the Lumad students were holding regular class, as opposed to police claims they were doing “combat training”. The USC administration earlier said they were not coordinated or informed of the operation.
Montejo admitted that they did not have warrants for the raid, and only coordinated with security guards on duty, and not directly with the university administration.
Another Lumad teacher, Jurain Ngujo, testified that the students were actually returning to Davao province by batches after quarantine protocols for the pandemic were eased in Cebu.
The Commission on Human Rights Region 7 Commissioner Leo Villarino testified that the PRO 7 turned down their request for documents claiming “data privacy”, but they were able to obtain parents’ consent forms provided by the SOS.
Mikay also revealed that while they were in custody of the Department of Social Welfare, they were offered P10,000 cash for each of the student during a press conference by the recently retired Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Gen. Debold Sinas.
Roshelle Porcadilla, one of the teachers arrested, testified via Zoom that she was interrogated almost every day by state agents, including from the the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), an agency that has red-tagged the schools.
“They told me we wouldn’t be released unless we admit to being rebels,” Porcadilla told the committee. She added that she was coerced to appear as state witness against the school.
She also said she was forced by Colonel Robel Limbawan, then Central Visayas Regional Intelligence Division, to drop her lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers Cebu. Limbawan denied this claim during the hearing.
The Davao del Norte court had dismissed the charges of kidnapping, detention and human trafficking against the seven arrested last May 14.
Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero said that the House may propose an agreement similar to the UP-DND accord that would prohibit police and military from entering Lumad schools and their premises.
The House committee will hold a second hearing that will hear parents of the children and officials of the DSWD Region 7 on the incident.