‘Bakwit School 7’ told: Don’t celebrate too early

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NATIONAL Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy said the “Bakwit School 7,” whose criminal charges were dismissed, must not “celebrate” yet.

Badoy said in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, May 18, 2021, that they will assist the Lumad parents, whose children were reportedly kidnapped and brought to the retreat house of the Societas Verbi Divini Philippines Southern Province, University of San Carlos-Talamban campus in Cebu City, to file a motion for reconsideration.

The NTF-Elcac official said the dismissal of the case is only a “first round,” and they will exhaust all legal actions against the respondents.

The Office of the Provincial Prosecutor (OPP) of Davao del Norte in Tagum City ordered the immediate release of the “Bakwit School 7” after it dismissed the criminal charges filed against them by the Philippine National Police Anti-kidnapping Group (AKG) on Friday, May 14.

The “Bakwit School 7” is a collective name of the respondents of the case, identified individually as Chad Errol Booc, Segundo Lagatos Melong, Benito Dalim Bay-ao, Moddie Langayed Mansimoy-at, Esmelito Oribawan, Roshelle Mae Porcadilla, and Jomar Benag.

They were charged with violations of the Child Abuse Law, Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, and kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

The respondents were arrested by local police on February 15, 2021.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer (NUPL) Cebu chapter, in a statement, said the grounds cited by the OPP-Davao del Norte for the junking of the criminal raps against their clients are: being outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the OPP Davao del Norte, insufficiency of evidence, and lack of probable cause to support any of the crimes allegedly committed by the respondents.

The NUPL Cebu said the resolution, dated May 5, 2021, was approved by Provincial Prosecutor Norman Solis of the OPP Davao del Norte.

Lawyer King Anthony Perez of the NUPL Cebu said they will wait for the NTF-Elcac’s countersuits.

“We will wait for their submissions if they would truly make use of the available legal remedies after all of their cases were dismissed by the prosecutor,” Perez told SunStar Cebu.

Badoy, however, said the resolution cited that “crimes were committed,” and that it was only an issue of territorial jurisdiction.

“Itong parang setback na ‘to (This setback) has given the government more time at saka nabigyan kami ng ideas at liwanag na ‘Ay, ito pala ‘yung kulang. Ito ang kailangan nating gawin para mas malakas ating kaso para mapapanalo natin ito’ (It gave us an idea that ‘Now we know what we lack. Now we know what we could work on to win this case’),” Badoy said.

“Huwag sila masyadong magdidiwang kasi butas na butas sila dito (They should not celebrate just yet because we noticed many loopholes here),” she said.

NTF-Elcac spokesperson lawyer Marlon Bosantog said they are exploring other legal remedies.

“These are the findings that we do not agree with, and we will look for our remedies. Either to file a motion of reconsideration or to refile the case,” Bosantog said.

Bosantog said they are planning to amplify the case based on the statement from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), by filing charges in violation of Republic Act 8371 or The Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997 (Ipra Law).

NCIP Secretary Allen Capuyan said the respondents violated the Ipra Law, including its customary laws, for forcibly taking away the children from the parents without the approval of their parents and tribal leaders.

Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Council of Elders and Leaders (Mipcel) chairman Joel Unad, who represented the parents, also disagreed that they should only be charged with kidnapping for they also violated the Ipra Law.

The IP chairman said they have yet to discuss the merits of the case based on their “cultural interpretation and expression.”

Meanwhile, the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, in a statement, welcomed the decision of the OPP.

“This development is proof of the innocence of the arrested individuals from the baseless allegations and red-tagging being peddled by the Duterte administration. In fact, the real culprits are the elements of the Cebu City police and the personnel of Department of Social Welfare and Development 7 who must be held accountable for inflicting harm and trauma against the 26 Lumad teachers, students and tribal leaders,” Salinlahi said. (With reports from SunStar Cebu)

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