21 taken away as police raid Lumad Bakwit School in Cebu
Photo shows personnel of Police Regional Office-7 tackling a member of a Lumad school in Cebu at what they claim is a "rescue operation."
The Freeman/Romeo Marantal and Iris Mascardo

21 taken away as police raid Lumad Bakwit School in Cebu

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - February 15, 2021 - 2:35pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:50 p.m.) — Students and teachers taking refuge at the Talamban campus of University of San Carlos in Cebu City were taken away by police personnel on Monday after what authorities called a "rescue operation" for minors at the Lumad Bakwit School but that the Philippine National Police later acknowledged as a raid.

The bakwit — from "evacuate" — have fled their homes and ancestral land in Mindanao because of militarization in their areas, indigenous peoples' education advocates like the Save Our Schools Network say.

A live video posted by The Freeman shows students and teachers of the Lumad Bakwit School in Cebu being apprehended by the Police Regional Office 7 personnel inside the campus. 

The Save Our Schools Network said in a statement condemning the raid that 21 students —15 minors and 6 adults — were taken away in the operation, along with two teachers and two elders. 

The network posted a live stream of the supposed rescue operation showing children screaming in a classroom as they were forced out by men in uniform.

It is not clear what they were being rescued from, as the teachers did not seem to be armed nor holding them against their will. 

"Their parents were supposedly forced and fetched out of their community in Davao del Norte by the military and the local government to justify this blatant attack," Save our Schools network also said. 

Sought for comment, Police Brig. Gen. Brandi Usana, PNP spokesperson, called reports on the raid by alternative media network AlterMidya "slanted and malicious," insisting to reporters in a text message that the "21 Lumad minors from Talaingog, [Davao del Norte] were actually rescued from a number of arrested suspects."

The government has long accused the Lumad schools of recruiting and training communist rebels, an allegation that Save Our Schools Network denies.

Usana said the operation "can be a big blow to the deceptive and devious handiwork of the [Communist Terrorist Group] members found recruiting minors as future armed combatants after they were trafficked from Davao del Norte to Cebu Province."

Usana also told reporters that tribal elders and parents "actually joined the police when they raided USC Retreat House." He said the children had been missing for two years and "now being taught by the Reds."

Over the coronavirus pandemic, the national police has been documented accusing activists as well as members of the House of having ties to communist rebels. It has also denied that is engaged in official red-tagging.

READ: Lumad school disputes photos of 'ambush demonstration' posted by Army officer

Congressional probe sought

Members of the Makabayan bloc, Reps. Eufemia Cullamat and Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna Party-List), have condemned the operation in separate statements on Monday, adding that they would seek a congressional investigation into the raids. 

It is unlikely that the House of Representatives, which is dominated by allies of the Duterte administration, will hold hearings when the lawmakers, themselves often accused of being in league with communist rebels, file resolutions calling for a probe.

"The Lumad students are there because the military destroyed their schools in Mindanao and now even in their evacuation or evacuation school they are being harassed and abducted. The government will not even let Lumads study," Zarate said in Filipino. 

"The police claim that this is a 'rescue operation' but it is obvious from the videos taken by one of the Lumads there himself how the police forcefully took them. It also shows the inhumane treatment and use of police forces," Cullamat, a Lumad herself, said.

Renato Reyes, secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, also wrote in a tweet thread: "The screams of the Lumad children could be heard in the circulating videos of the raid and arrests. They were clearly terrified. Why is it also that the government forces seemingly did not respect the status of the University of San Carlos as an academic institution?" 

Philstar.com has reached out to Police Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo, Police Regional Office-7 director for comment, but he has not responded as of this post. 

FROM INTERAKSYON: Why Lumad schools are valuable to the education of Lumad children

with reports from Xave Gregorio and The Freeman  

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