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Red-tagging victims: 7 freed after 2-month detention for helping lumad kids

By: Nestle Semilla – Reporter / Inquirer Visayas /May 14, 2021

CEBU CITY—The Central Visayas police has freed seven persons arrested last February on suspicion that they were recruiting lumad minors and training them as “child warriors” of communist rebel movement.

The detainees, known as Bakwit School 7, were released around 6 p.m. on Friday (May 14).

Davao del Norte Prosecutor Norman Solis, who dismissed the charges against the detainees, signed the release order.

Lawyer King Anthony Perez, spokesperson of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) Cebu, said the dismissal of the complaints against the seven detainees validated the claim that persistent red-tagging of lumad, or indigenous peoples in Mindanao, by police and counterinsurgency operatives was baseless and unfounded.

“The indigenous peoples and their leaders have been victims of state terrorism because of their long history of struggle against the exploitation of their ancestral lands,” he said.

“The raid of the Bakwit School was intended to instill fear and thwart resistance by Filipinos who have grown frustrated and restless with the administration’s anti-poor and anti-people policies,” he added.

The seven were arrested by police inside the retreat house of the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) on the University of San Carlos campus in Talamban on Feb. 15, 2021 and accused of child abuse, trafficking, kidnapping and serious illegal detention for helping shelter lumad children displaced by military operations against communist guerrillas.

They were teachers Roshelle Porcadilla and Chad Booc; lumad elders Benito Bay-ao and Segundo Melong; and students Jomar Benag, Moddie Monsimuy-at, and Esmelito Oribawan.

In a resolution dated May 5, 2021 but received by the detainees only last Tuesday (May 11) the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Davao Del Norte dismissed all the complaints filed by police for lack of jurisdiction, insufficiency of evidence and lack of probable cause.

Perez appealed to authorities to end intense militarization in indigenous communities, the exploitation of their ancestral lands and the continued violations of their rights.

“We also enjoin every Filipino to denounce the government’s red-tagging campaign which has been used to justify cracking down on human rights defenders and lawyers,” said Perez.

“We continue to assert that no amount of terror and intimidation will ever silence the people’s movement,” he said.

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