The Davao del Norte Prosecutor’s Office has dismissed the criminal complaints filed against seven individuals arrested following the supposed rescue of indigenous children from alleged communist rebels in Cebu City in February.
In a resolution dated May 5, the prosecutor’s office junked the complaints for kidnapping and serious illegal detention, human trafficking, and child abuse for being outside the territorial jurisdiction of Davao del Norte, insufficiency of evidence, and lack of probable cause to support any of the crimes allegedly committed by the respondents.
It also directed the Philippine National Police to “immediately release” the respondents, namely Chad Errol Booc, Segundo Melong, Benito Bay-ao, Moddie Mansimoy-at, Esmelito Oribawan, Roshelle Mae Porcadilla, and Jomar Benag.
Meanwhile, education workers and advocates under the ACT for Peace alliance denounced what they called the Anti-Terrorism Council’s arbitrary designation of peace consultants as terrorists: Rafael Baylosis, Rey Claro Casambre, Vicente Ladlad, and Adelberto Silva.
In a press release, they said these consultants had relentlessly worked to achieve peace based on justice, had sought to put an end to the more than half a century armed conflict in the country “by enjoining the Philippine government to address its roots: landlessness of millions of farmers, lack of decent jobs with tenure security and livable wages, an economy that serves foreign interests and controlled by multinational corporations, among others.”
“The dismissal of the complaints [filed by the PNP] against the Bakwit School 7 validates our firm assertion that the persistent red-tagging efforts on Lumad schools by the state forces are baseless and unfounded,” said the National Union of People's Lawyers-Cebu chapter, who represented six of the respondents, in a statement.
“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.”
Police took into custody 19 minors belonging to the Manobo tribe on February 15 following a raid at a retreat house inside the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus in Cebu City.
According to then-PNP chief General Debold Sinas, the operation was a manifestation that the rebels had been continuously engaged in recruiting minors to be trained as child warriors for the communist movement.
The USC and the Societas Verbi Divini Philippines, however, said the students who were taken by police were being “nurtured, cared for and treated with their best interest in mind” in a retreat house.
The children were supposed to return to their respective communities but the COVID-19 lockdowns prevented them from doing so.
In the Zamboanga peninsula, the Philippine Army’s 102nd Infantry “Igsoon” Brigade placed its target on the last two Guerilla Fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as its Brigade Commander recently declared Zamboanga del Sur insurgency-free.
In an interview, 102IBde Commander Brig. Gen. Leonel Nicolas said, “Right now, the 102Bde is focusing its efforts in the dismantling of the two remaining guerilla fronts of the Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee which are Guerilla Front BBC and Guerilla Front Sendong.”
The brigade dismantled five guerilla fronts, two Regional Operational Command units which are HQ-KALAW and the Main Regional Guerilla Unit, plus one Regional Urban Committee, all under the WMRPC.
“As of the end of 2020, we were able to clear all Communist Terrorist Group-affected barangays in Zamboanga Sibugay, which is one of the criteria in declaring a province as Insurgency-free,” Nicolas said in a statement.
“What's left for the Brigade, with the support of the Local Task Force ELCAC in ZamPen and MisOcc, is addressing these two remaining armed groups of WMRPC,” Nicolas added.
A province is declared Insurgency-Free after successfully meeting the criteria for their reclassification as Peaceful and Ready for Further Development provinces.
These criteria are met with the active involvement of government agencies and various stakeholders from all levels of the Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.