Philippine Police Free Tribespeople Accused of Training Children as Combatants

Nonoy Espina
Bacolod, Philippines
2021-05-14
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Philippine Police Free Tribespeople Accused of Training Children as Combatants Indigenous students wearing traditional garb join a sit-in protest at the University of the Philippines in suburban Manila to call on authorities to respect academic freedom, Jan. 28, 2021.
Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews

Police in the southern Philippines freed seven tribal leaders, students and teachers on Friday after prosecutors dropped charges against the group who were arrested three months ago for allegedly training children as combatants for communist rebels, their lawyer said.

The seven tribespeople had been charged with kidnapping, human trafficking and other offenses after their arrest during a police raid on Feb. 15 at a makeshift school they had set up at the University of San Carlos, a church-run campus in central Cebu City.

“All told, it appears that there is insufficient evidence to support any of the alleged crimes of kidnapping and serious illegal detention, human trafficking and child abuse,” Davao del Norte provincial prosecutors said in a statement issued May 5.

“Even when there are indications of acts committed by the said respondents that would fit the elements of the above-mentioned crimes, these acts either happened at Davao City or at Cebu City, outside the territorial jurisdiction of this office,” the statement added.

The document identified the seven as Chad Errol Booc, Roshelle Mae C. Porcadilla, Benito Dalim Bay-ao, Segundo Lagatos Melong, Jomar Benag, Esmelito Paumba Oribawan and Moddie Langayed Mansimoy-at.

The prosecutors also ordered the Cebu-based Police Regional Office 7 and other facilities where the seven were detained to “immediately release them as far as these cases are concerned.”

King Anthony Perez, an attorney with the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said his group only received the document on Friday and that all seven “were released at 6:30 p.m.”

An informant, who claimed to be a former teacher, alleged that he and the seven had “taught minors the ideologies and methodologies of the CPP,” according to the prosecutors’ statement, referring to the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines.

‘Video of the incident’

The NUPL said 21 people were taken into custody during the February raid, adding that 14 children were released to social workers or eventually released to their parents.

The police justified their action as a legitimate operation to rescue the children from being indoctrinated into the communist movement.

NUPL said the dismissal “validates our firm assertion that the persistent red-tagging efforts on lumad schools by the state forces are baseless and unfounded.”

Red-tagging is a term that activists use to describe a military practice of accusing activists of having links to the Philippine communist party and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

“The indigenous people and their leaders have been victims of state terrorism because of their long history of struggle against the exploitation of their ancestral lands,” the NUPL said in a statement.

State security forces have accused schools set up by religious and civil society groups in rural areas of the Mindanao region for the “lumad” – the collective term for non-Islamized indigenous groups – of being run by rebels or their “front organizations.”

In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he would destroy schools in Mindanao educating lumad children, and told them to leave the area. He also ordered the military and police to investigate their alleged links to the communist insurgency.

“I am telling the lumads now, get out of there. I will bomb those schools. I will include your structures,” Duterte said in July 2017.

The military has not carried out the president’s threat.

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