Lumad Bakwit School 7 vindicated

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

The Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Davao del Norte on Wednesday dismissed all charges against the Lumad Bakwit school teachers and students who were arrested during a raid at the University of San Carlos Retreat House in Talamban, Cebu City, last February 15.

Dubbed as the “Bakwit School 7”, there were originally eight of them who were arrested and charged for kidnapping and serious illegal detention, human trafficking, and child abuse. But one of them asked to be discharged as a state witness against the seven others.

The Visayas Community Law Center sent to me yesterday a copy of the Davao prosecutor’s resolution. The resolution confirmed my belief that had good intentions and cooler and saner heads prevailed, the Lumad Bakwit School conundrum last February could have been resolved peacefully and quietly with the welfare of the parents and the children adequately protected.

However, as we know already, a pointless commotion resulted last February 15. The incident, streamed live on social media, broke the serene and neutral environment of the University of San Carlos (USC) Retreat House in Talamban, Cebu City. Some members of the news media in Cebu were even accused of becoming unwitting “accomplices” of a baseless anti-communist witch-hunt. Some netizens criticized reporters who swallowed hook, line, and sinker at the initial stage of their report the description of the police and social welfare officials that they were conducting a “rescue mission”.

The clearer version of the incident, stripped of any insinuations and unfounded inferences drawn from anti-communist elements, as well as propaganda from the Left, only came in much later. There were Lumad parents of students of the Salugpungan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, who wanted their children in Cebu to come back to Davao.

At a glance, there seemed to be a serious reason for the parents to be concerned. An alleged former member of the CPP-NPA who claimed to be a former teacher at the Salugpungan school, had executed a sworn statement against his colleagues. He alleged that while he was teaching at the Salugpungan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center in Talaingod, he studied the courses and ideologies of the CPP. He further alleged that Salugpungan school was being used as a recruitment and indoctrination center for minors.

For their part, the respondents “Bakwit School 7” were able to present evidence stating that the Bakwit School, whose students came from the Salugpungan school in Talaingod, had been supported by Commission of Social Advocacy (COSA) of the Archdiocese of Cebu since October 2019. The COSA coordinated with the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) for the accommodation of the Bakwit School teachers and students.

“The SVD allowed the school to occupy the University of San Carlos Retreat House for its moving-up ceremony for the Academic Year 2019-2020. The lockdown, however, postponed the commencement ceremonies and the supposed return of the students to Mindanao from April 2020. Since the lockdown effectively stranded the students of the Bakwit School, the COSA made sure that the welfare of the students were taken care of.”

Oblivious of the USC and SVD’s most respected legacy and reputation in Cebu, the police and local social welfare workers swooped into the school campus in Talamban (with news reporters in tow) to conduct what they dubbed as a “rescue mission”. Cebuanos suddenly woke up the next day to hear and read the words “rescue mission,” “kidnapping,” and “trafficking” lumped together with “University of San Carlos” in news reports. Unbelievable, right?!

Anyway, on to the meat of the resolution of the Davao del Norte Provincial Prosecutor’s Office. In this case, according to prosecutors, not a single witness from the complainants were able to identify who “kidnapped” and “trafficked” the minors from Talaingod, Davao del Norte. “Equally unsupported is the allegation that such deprivation of liberty started at Talaingod, Davao del Norte,” the resolution stated.

As regards the allegation of child abuse, the resolution stated that one witness alleged that the exposure and indoctrination of the children to the communist ideology started in the Salugpungan school in Talaingod. However, the said witness did not name any of the arrested persons in Cebu as the ones who indoctrinated the children in Talaingod.

With this, the Davao del Norte Provincial Prosecutor’s Office dismissed all charges against the seven Lumad Bakwit school teachers and students for insufficiency of evidence and lack of probable cause, and for being outside its territorial jurisdiction.

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