House probe into police raid on Lumad Bakwit School may start next week

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
House probe into police raid on Lumad Bakwit School may start next week
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

MANILA, Philippines — A House panel may launch hearings into a raid on a campus of a Cebu City university in what authorities claim was a rescue operation, a House leader said, adding police officers may be cited in contempt should they fail to tell an accurate account of the incident before a congressional inquiry.

Cebu police along with social welfare staff took away 19 children whom they said were being indoctrinated to join the communist movement at the University of San Carlos in Talamban. The raid was on a Lumad Bakwit School that was being housed at the university while the students' return to their home province was being arranged, the university has since said.

Caught on video, the raid has been condemned by indigenous peoples' advocacy groups, human rights groups and lawmakers who have called for an investigation.

Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero (1-PACMAN party-list) said members of the arresting team could be locked up if they do not cooperate during House hearings.

"Hopefully by next week we can call already a meeting and we will see... if these police operatives do not tell the truth, they might end up detained here in Batasan," he said in Filipino as he joined a weekly press briefing of the progressive Makabayan bloc.

According to the House website, the resolution is pending first reading and has yet to be referred to a committee.

Romero also said that cops who led the raid appeared to be only "finding a justifiable cause" and that "since this is a time for promotions in the PNP...they're using everything they can to gain mileage."

The police account of the Lumad children supposedly being recruited to the armed movement have been disputed by the city's social welfare services.

In the same briefing, Romero showed copies of the curriculum being taught in the Lumad Bakwit School.

"Are they, at that point in time, teaching the students the usual curriculum of a DepEd class? Yes they are," he said. "Are they future terrorists? No, they are only learning because they are deprived of being schooled. In fact, they should instead be looked upon with pity because at 20 or 19-years-old they are only able to study now."

Romero earlier this week called for the relief of the police officers involved in the raid, saying the incident had brought distress and trauma to the students.

The PNP has filed kidnapping, child exploitation and human trafficking arrest against seven people arrested in the raid, including teachers and community elders. — with reports from Franco Luna and Xave Gregorio

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