DSWD 7 releases young lumad

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THE Department of Social Welfare and Development 7 on Friday afternoon, March 12, 2021, released Mekaella Haictin, one of the young Lumad students turned over to the DSWD 7 after the controversial Feb. 15, 2021 police-led operation in Cebu City, to her father Lope, who won custody of her daughter.

DSWD 7 Director Rebecca Geamala said they heeded the March 11 court order, which was served on Friday.

She said Mekaella, a native of Mindanao, stayed at the DSWD 7 for 19 days, from Feb. 21 to March 12.

“She was not kept. It is a center and to think about (it), we have protection plans, protocols that state they should not be going outside of the center at any rate because they are at risk,” she said.

She added: “We are protecting the child, the minor.”

Now that the court battle for child’s custody has been won by the father, Geamala said, “let it be then.”

Court decision

Cebu City Regional Trial Court Branch 20 Judge Leah Geraldez, in her eight-page decision released on Thursday, March 11, 2021, ruled that there was no factual and legal basis for the confinement of Mekaella, daughter Haictin, at the DSWD 7 Crisis Intervention Center.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City chapter, which also provided legal assistance to Lope, was elated by Mekaella’s release.

In a statement posted on its official Facebook page on Friday, the IBP Cebu City claimed that the DSWD 7 “avoided in all instances the service of the order and even called the PNP (Philippine National Police) and SWAT (Special weapons and tactics) teams to prevent us from entering” its premises.

The IBP Cebu City also said it would have proceeded to file contempt charges against the police and the DSWD 7 had their “contemptuous” acts continued.

Geamala, for her part, said she was in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental for an official trip when the court issued the order on Thursday.

She also said they have 15 days to file a motion for reconsideration, but they did not resort to it. They just followed the court order to release the girl.

Geamala also said that regardless of the decision, they will continue to monitor Mekaella’s situation. They will also ensure that the services due her will be provided in Zamboanga City in Mindanao and they have an agreement with their counterparts in the city’s DSWD field office to continue looking after the girl’s welfare.

Petition

Last March 4, Lope Haictin, through the assistance of the IBP, the Cebu For Human Rights and the Free Legal Assistance Group, filed a petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus against Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Ronnie Montejo, Geamala and Brenda Abilo, a staff member of the DSWD 7 Crisis Intervention Center to present Mekaella before the court, appear before the court and explain the “detention” of Mekaella.

The RTC Branch 20 accepted the petition on March 5 and the hearing was held on March 9. The respondents presented Mekaella before the court.

Mekaella was one of the six Lumad minors turned over to the DSWD 7 after they were recovered during police-led “rescue” last Feb. 15 from a facility inside the University of San Carlos’ campus in Barangay Talamban, Cebu City. The operation also resulted in the arrest of Lumad elders and teachers. (WBS)