‘Bakwit School 7’ Free, All Charges Dismissed
By Romae Chanice Marquez
“Maraming salamat,” were the first words that Lumad teacher Chad Booc shared after he walked free from detention yesterday, May 14. “Napakalaking tagumpay ang nakamit natin at hindi natin ito makakamit kung hindi tayo nagtulungan.”
Booc, together with three Lumad students, another volunteer teacher, and two datus, is part of the ‘Bakwit School 7’ who were arrested in Cebu on February 15. They were detained after the police raided the Lumad Bakwit School at the Talamban campus of the University of San Carlos.
The Davao del Norte provincial prosecutor junked the charges against the seven, who had been detained for three months at the Police Regional Office (PRO) Region 7 in Cebu City.
All criminal charges of kidnapping, serious illegal detention, child abuse, and human trafficking against teachers Booc and Roshelle Mae C. Porcadilla, Lumad datus Segundo Lagatos Melong, Benito Dalim Bay-ao, and students Moddie Langayed Mansimoy-at, Esmelito Paumba Oribawan, and Jomar Benag, have been cleared.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the cases lacked evidence, probable cause, and were outside its territorial jurisdiction.
“Kahit nasa loob kami, ramdam namin ang suporta ninyo,” said Booc who has been a volunteer Lumad teacher since he graduated in UP Diliman in 2016. “’Yun ang nagbigay ng lakas sa amin habang nasa loob ng kulungan.”
‘Far from over’
According to the Save our Schools (SOS) Network, the Lumad have been able to continue their education because of the bakwit schools. The Department of Education has closed down close to 200 Lumad schools under the Duterte administration, but according to the network, it seems that the state is running after even the bakwit schools.
The SOS Network-Cebu, who helped establish the Cebu bakwit school for the Lumad evacuees, called the case dismissal as “a testament to the truth”.
The February raid, which the police called “rescue”, rounded up 18 Lumad students after alleging that they were being recruited as armed combatants. The students were brought back to Davao del Norte, where they evacuated precisely because the military in their communities were accusing them of being armed communists.
According to SOS Network-Cebu spokesperson Meg Lim, the accusations made by the state forces and the government’s anti-communist task force vilifying the Lumad students have all been proven false.
“The victory only proves that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) only peddles lies, and that all these are part of the government’s systemic attacks against indigenous people,” said Lim.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers in Cebu, who handled the ‘Bakwit School 7’ case also said in a statement that the dismissal of the complaints “validates our firm assertion that the persistent red-tagging efforts on Lumad schools by the state forces are baseless and unfounded.”
However, the groups said the struggle is far from over. “The state continues to detain the 18 Talaingod students and their parents. The military is still holding 13 of those who were flown to Talaingod, Davao del Norte on February 21,” the SOS Network said.
The other five Lumad minors, who were moved from DSWD-7 to DSWD-12 in Sultan Kudarat on April 10, have not been reunited with their parents. The social welfare department says they are still receiving “psychosocial services.”
The next step, according to the groups, is to make sure that threats against the 18 children and their safety are addressed. According to NUPL Cebu, the raid of the bakwit school was meant to instill fear among the public, but it said this should not stop Filipinos from supporting the demands of the indigenous people. “We amplify our calls to end the intense militarization within indigenous communities and the continued violations of their rights,” the lawyers’ group said.