On 15 February, armed security agents of the Duterte government raided an indigenous Lumad school inside the campus of the University of San Carlos in Cebu City and took into custody 26 students, teachers and community elders. Local police filed charges of child abuse, child trafficking, kidnapping and serious illegal detention against teachers Chad Booc and Roshelle Mae Porcadella, datus Benito Bay-ao and Segundo Milong, and students Jomar Binag, Esmelito Oribawan and Moddie Mansumoy-at.
The raid on the school and arrests are causing a storm of protests by the Lumad communities, Filipinos all over country and human rights defenders abroad.
The Save our Schools Network (SOS), advocates for the indigenous Lumad schools, strongly condemned the raid, “Time and again, Duterte government officials mouth the word ‘rescue’ but this disturbed the peace of Lumad evacuees and students, just as what happened in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines’ Haran Mission Center in Davao City in 2015 and January 2020.” The SOS demanded the immediate release of the 26 individuals, including those arrested.
Thousands of Lumad have been displaced from their communities in southern Philippines by the Manila government’s military operations. Many have taken refuge in church-based sanctuaries, setting up makeshift schools in the evacuation centers called ‘bakwit’ schools. They continue to face harassment, however, being accused of supporting the armed revolutionary movement and “kidnapping” their own children into the refugee centers.
In a joint statement, the University of San Carlos and the Society of the Divine Word declared that the Lumad inside the university campus were carrying out their educational program. “Their presence in the retreat house was for their welfare and well-being… they were nurtured, cared for, and treated with their best interest in mind,” said the statement signed by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, SVD provincial superior Fr. Rogelio Bag-ao and USC president Fr. Narciso Cellan Jr.
In the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Rep. Mikee Romero called on the Philippine National Police to “relieve all involved in this illegal raid.” He said the raid was “far from a rescue operation… there was much screaming, cries for help, commotion and struggle. Clearly, the incident led to distress, agony and even trauma to the children,” citing photos and videos of the incident shared online by the SOS.
Opposition lawmakers Reps. Eufemia Cullamat, Carlos Isagani Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, Arlene Brosas, France Castro and Sarah Jane Elago, jointly filed a House Resolution calling for an investigation into the “Gestapo-like” raid and arrests. “The violent raid and arrest against indigenous people merely seeking sanctuary amid the pandemic is highly condemnable,” said the six lawmakers.
The raid and arrests have been met with strong international solidarity. In the US, the Borricua Resistance – New York, an alliance of the Puerto Rican diaspora, the Sunrise Movement – George Washington University, and the National Students for Justice in Palestine, expressed solidarity with the Lumad of the Philippines.