19 Lumad children rescued from alleged kidnapping by militant group — PNP

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Cebu (CNN Philippines, February 15) — Police have arrested seven people in an operation in a top Cebu school on Monday, where they said 19 Lumad children from Davao del Norte were rescued from alleged kidnapping by a militant group.

According to authorities, parents claimed their children were taken by members of the Salugpungan Ta' Tanu Igkanogon without their consent and were told they would be brought to Davao City for their schooling. They were instead found to have been staying at a retreat house of the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus in Cebu since 2018, police said.

In 2019, 55 schools operated and owned by the Salugpungan Ta' Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Centers in the Davao region were shut down by the Department of Education for allegedly teaching "left-leaning ideologies." Salugpungan claimed its schools were established to give indigenous groups in remote areas access to education. 

The police were accompanied by personnel from the Cebu City Social Welfare Development Office, the Women and Children Protection Center Visayas Field Unit, and the Children Protection Desk of the Cebu City Police Office.

"According to their parents, their children were taken by the members of Salugpungan Ta' Tanu Igkanogon without their knowledge and consent," Police Regional Office-7 Director PBGen. Ronnie Montejo said in a press conference at Camp Sergio Osmena Monday afternoon.

Montejo said they were only answering the calls for help from the parents. He added the children would undergo basic interventions before they are sent home to Davao del Norte.

Authorities said those arrested would be charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention, violation of the Anti-Human Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, and the Anti-Child Abuse Law.

Meanwhile, the Save Our Schools Network, a group of child-focused NGOs, church-based groups and other stakeholders advocating for children's rights, is calling for the release of those apprehended in the operation which they described as a raid.

But police insist it was a rescue operation.

Montejo said they would look into the possible liabilities of the University of San Carlos.

The Society of the Divine (SVD) Philippines Southern Province, the religious community that operates the university, and the University of San Carlos issued a joint statement on Monday on what they called a "serious concern."

The SVD said they hosted last March 11, 2020 a delegation of 42 students, along with five teachers and three community leaders. This was because they were in support of the Archdiocese of Cebu-Commission on Social Advocacies (COSA) project of a 'bakwit' school program with Save Our Schools Network.

Bakwit is the term used for people displaced because of unrest in their communities.

The group was hosted at the retreat house and was supposed to complete their modular schooling on April 3 of the same year, and would then return to their communities.

But due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, the SVD community has since sheltered the group, "providing them with comfortable accommodation, and allowing them the use of its facilities." They added preparations for the group's return home were in progress and that it would be carried out in batches because of the requirements needed for travel.

They said at least four delegates have already returned home, and another batch will follow this week.

"It, thus, came as a surprise that reports about minors being 'rescued' surfaced today. While COSA mentioned that some parents were coming over to fetch their children, it did not dawn on us that the parents' visit will necessitate the presence of policemen," the statement read.

No rescue ever needs to take place in the area, the statement added, "because the presence of Lumads in the retreat house was for their welfare and well-being, and all throughout, they were nurtured, cared for, and treated with their best interest in mind."