“The victory of the Bakwit School 7 is a testament to the truth and the legitimacy of the calls of the Lumad and the existence of the Bakwit School. This victory only proves that the NTF-ELCAC only peddles lies and that their stories bear no truth nor any weight when it comes to the fight for social justice.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Davao Del Norte dismissed the criminal charges against seven Lumad datu, teachers and students for insufficiency of evidence and lack of probable cause.
In a resolution dated May 5, the prosecution also said that the case is outside its territorial jurisdiction. The resolution was released to the public today, May 14 by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer-Cebu City chapter.
In a statement, the NUPL-Cebu welcomed the dismissal of charges of child abuse, kidnapping, serious illegal detention and trafficking against their clients, saying that this only validates their assertion that the persistent red-tagging by the state against the Lumad schools are baseless and unfounded.
“The indigenous peoples and their leaders have been victims of state terrorism because of their long history of struggle against the exploitation of their ancestral lands,” King Perez of the NUPL-Cebu. “The raid of the bakwit school in USC Talamban Campus was intended to instill fear and thwart resistance by the Filipinos who have grown frustrated and restless with the administration’s anti-poor and anti-people policies.”
Grade 10 students Moddie Mansimuy-at and Esmelito Oribawan, Grade 12 student Jomar Benag, volunteer teachers Chad Booc and Roshelle Porcadilla, datus Benito Bay-ao and Segundo Melong are expected to walk out of detention facilities in Cebu today.
Perez said that as there are no pending cases against their clients, the Cebu City police should immediately release the seven.
They were arrested on Feb. 15, 2021 when members of the Philippine National Police regional Office 7 raided the retreat house of University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus in Cebu, and forcibly took the Lumad students from their sanctuary. Authorities claimed it was a rescue mission but video footage shows children crying.
Minors were brought to the local Department of Social Welfare and Development office.
The Save Our Schools Network-Cebu also welcomed this development, noting that some of the detainees are getting ill due to miserable prison conditions.
The group lamented that the police did not provide the seven any provisions of food since their detention, and were slow to respond to the deteriorating health of Datu Benito and Esme due to poor jail conditions.
The SOS-Cebu said the Cebu police also took part in harassing, intimidating, and interrogating the detainees and supporters.
The group also asserted that even if the prosecutors had jurisdiction, the claims of the state through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) “are part of the government’s systematic attack against indigenous peoples and hold no water.”
“In fact, the raid and the succeeding fascist maneuvers of PRO-7 and DSWD-7 were deplorably clear displays of state violence and human rights violations,” the group added.
“The victory of the Bakwit School 7 is a testament to the truth and the legitimacy of the calls of the Lumad and the existence of the Bakwit School. This victory only proves that the NTF-ELCAC only peddles lies and that their stories bear no truth nor any weight when it comes to the fight for social justice,” SOS-Cebu said.
However, the group added that the fight does not end with the dismissal of the charges against Bakwit 7.
The group said 13 of those who were flown by authorities to Talaingod, Davao del Norte on February 21 are still under the custody of the military.
The other 5 who the DSWD-7 transferred to DSWD-12 in Sultan Kudarat, April 10, had not been reunited with their parents as the Lumad minors continue to undergo ‘psychosocial services,’ the group said.
Meanwhile, NUPL-Cebu said they continue to “stand with the Lumad in their struggle to assert their right to ancestral lands, self-determination, and education as guaranteed under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 and protected by the Constitution.”
“Their right to be free from any kind of discrimination, and to live in peace and security is further recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),” they added.
Lawyers from NUPL-Cebu and the Visayas Community Law Center are the counsels of six of the respondents. Lumad teacher Porcadilla withdrew NUPL Cebu’s legal representation sometime in March, according to Perez.
In our earlier report, Porcadilla was taken from her detention without the knowledge of her family and lawyers.