Public perception noted what kind of a police rescue operation had transpired when it rather threatened the individuals to be rescued screaming in obvious fear, thanks to live footage and reports which showed yet another blatant acts of state-enforced harassment during the Lumad arrests on Monday, February 15.

Had there been no live footage of manhandling, handcuffing, and mauling which were instigated by state authorities—the arrest of over 40 individuals will go swiftly then referred as a success of a so-called ‘rescue operation’.

Based on recent developments, 26 individuals are still being held in captive. Of the 26, 22 of which are lumad students, two volunteer teachers, and two indigenous elders.

Accordingly, the police along with the anti-communist task force claimed victory in this ‘fear mongering’ mission.

Screengrabbed from live video by The Freeman
Screengrabbed from live video by The Freeman
Screengrabbed from live video by The Freeman

Lumads refuge at USC

Case in point, February 15 marked another blow on the safety, security, and self-determination among the indigenous students. Around 11:30 pm, elements of Philippine National Police Regional Office 7 along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, paramilitary from ALAMARA, and Department of Social Welfare and Development stormed the Lumad Bakwit School in USC to capture students, volunteer teachers, and indigenous elders. In fact, most of the students are at a young age.

In a joint statement from Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) Philippines Southern Province and the USC, it said that these insitutions have supported the Archdiocese of Cebu – Commission on Social Advocacies (COSA) project of a bakwit school program with Save Our Schools Network.

The SVD asserted that the four other educational institutions within the archdiocese have hosted the delegation of 42 Lumad students accompanied by five teachers and three indigenous elders since March 11, 2020.

The refugees were then welcomed and took residence at the USC in Talamban campus. They were supposed to complete their modular schooling April 3, 2020 after which, they would have returned to their respective indigenous communities.

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions imposed by the Cebu City government, the Lumad refugees along with the volunteer teachers took shelter as prescribed by SVD provided with utmost safety and security.

However, it did not last soon as the state pushed their dirty theatrics of a ‘rescue operation’.

Attempting ethnocide

Screengrabbed from live video by The Freeman

“Ito po ay klase ng ethnocide sa mga lumad kung saan gusto nilang mawala, mabura sa kasaysayan ang kultura ng mga lumad sa pamamagitan ng pagsira sa aming mga paaralan sa siyang pandepensa sa aming mga lupang ninuno.” assailed by Rius Valle, spokesperson for Save Our Schools Network.

Valle reiterated that this is not an isolated case of the numerous attacks endured by the Lumad. In fact, he recalled over the harassment incident transpired on January 25 last year in United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran in Davao City which had been a sanctuary camp for 500 Lumad individuals.

“Sinasabi nila na isang rescue operation daw ang nangyari. Pero pinagdadampot? Pinosasan? Pinosasan, tinakot ang mga estudyante, mga guro, at mga lider. Ganyan sila mangrescue dahil ang totoo, hindi iyon rescue. Ang totoo, gusto nilang patahimikin ang bakwit school na patuloy na nag-iingay sa iba’t ibang parte sa Pilipinas para ipakita sa buong mundo na ganito ang ginagawa ng militar at gobyerno sa mga paaralan at mga komunidad ng Lumad,” Valle added.

He also decried on the UP-DND accord issue as though the UP community has in fact sheltered several Lumad individuals who sought for refuge in the metro.

Lala, a Lumad student, could not contain her emotions as she recalled the suffering of their community from state violence.

“Galit po ang nararamdaman namin ngayon. Galit po at at pag-aalala,” said Lala while shedding her tears.

She worried especially for the young Lumad students over such traumatic experience they have long endured, and yet again, happened even during the global pandemic. That despite the health crisis, the state and the military poses a grave threat to the IP communities with the rampant attacks at the expense of basic human rights.

“Nakasaad mismo sa United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), [ito ay] pang-aapak sa karapatan naming lumahok sa mga aktibidad lalong lalo na kapag nayuyurakan na ‘yong karapatan namin,” Lala furthered.

Under Article 13 of UNCRC, it says that every child has the right to find out and distribute information and to express their ideas – through talking, writing, art or any other form of expression.

Teacher Jeany Rose Hayahay also shared the same sentiment.

“Sobrang garapal, berdugo, mamamatay tao, sinungaling ang gobyerno na ito. Ngayon, kung magtatanong sila kung bakit may nagrerebeldeng guro, may nagrerebeldeng mga Lumad, kaya namin iyong sagutin,

“Sapagkat nakikita at pinaparanas nila sa amin ang inhustisya, pinaparanas nila sa amin ang hindi paggalang at paniniil sa aming karapatan,” contested the volunteer teacher.

Teacher Rose relayed several incidents including the abduction of her mother, Imelda Hayahay, by a group of armed men in Mabini town, Compostela Valley in 2018.

The volunteer teacher also lambast the arrest of her colleagues.

“Ang mga boluntayo po nating mga guro na sumama upang igiit ang karapatan ng mga bata para sa sarili nilang pagpapasya at karapatan sa edukasyon ay ngayon nasa kulungan,” said Teacher Rose.

Among the arrested individuals included the 26-year-old UP graduate and a volunteer teacher, Chad Booc. This was the second time Booc was incarcerated since his arrest in July 2017 along with seven other activists and volunteer teachers prior to staging a protest in Batasang Pambansa to oppose Martial law in Mindanao.

Together with Teacher Rose, Booc is among the signatories in the 24th petition against the most-contested and controversial Anti-Terrorism Law that supreme court is currently deliberating.

Separated from the students, he is now along with six others awaiting for inquest proceedings after being incarcerated without a warrant. Meanwhile, the police affirmed that they will be filing charges of kidnapping with serious illegal detention, Anti-Human Trafficking in Persons Act and Child Abuse.

Police Regional Office-Central Visayas Director Police Brigadier General Ronnie Montejo alleged that it was the indigenous students’ parents who sought for authorities help saying that children were ‘taken’ by Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon

Montejo then red-tagged Salugpongan being affiliated with the communist group upon recruiting Lumads and had them ‘indoctrinated’ to attend rallies and fight against the government.

Save our Schools network affirmed that teachers and parents from different indigenous peoples (IP) schools in Mindanao mounted the makeshift educational center known as Lumad Bakwit School in Cebu City since 2019.

These would not have happened if not for the continuing militarization in the Lumad communities in Mindanao. As a matter of fact, state-sponsored violence have long been perpetuated in the IPs ancestral lands with the massive closure, bombings, and destruction forced hundreds of students to go on ‘bakwit’ (to evacuate) and seek refuge in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao.

More than 178 out of 215 Lumad schools in Mindanao were forcibly put to shutdown under President Duterte’s watch.

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