Editorial: Allow the ‘rescued’ to speak

·3 min read

WHAT could be a more blatant lie than the official narrative of a “rescue” when children were screaming in resistance?

Yesterday morning, a police Swat team accompanied social welfare agents in a supposed rescue operation of over 30 children who were allegedly kept in a facility managed by a religious order. Some trick of fate, the conduct was fed live in not a few social media accounts of news organizations, one of those by Benjie Talisic of SunStar Superbalita, and therefore unfolded before thousands of viewers.

The alleged facility turned out to be recognizably the retreat house at the University of San Carlos (USC) Talamban Campus.

Anyone “rescued,” at the slightest chance of being saved, is supposed to be relieved, elated even. This was not so in the Feb. 15 operation, as the videos showed. The minors, some of them clad in ethnic clothes, cowered in the corners of the room, screaming. A boy who took videos of the incident was accosted by the police, brought outside and handcuffed. Another was constrained by four policemen and carried out of the room. The scuffle wasn’t because someone stood as intermediary between the “rescuers” and the “rescued.” It did not help that the social workers assured the children that they were being “rescued.” Everyone scurried across the room in resistance; terrified calls for help rang out.

Talisic’s video came to an interview of a certain datu, who explained the presence of the children in the facility. He said the school gave them shelter following the quarantine declaration last year, although the story goes far back. They were among the multitude of lumad communities who have been displaced by alleged harassments by government soldiers and closure of their schools in Mindanao. His statements obviously did not sit well with the “rescuers.” He was promptly arrested in the middle of the interview with media.

The elder’s tale corroborates the joint statement of the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) Philippines Southern Province and the University of San Carlos (USC). The religious order and the school housed the lumad children, teachers and elders in support of the Archdiocese of Cebu-Commission on Social Advocacies (COSA) project of a bakwit school program with Save Our Schools (SOS) Network.

The USC-served delegation, the statement read, “was supposed to complete their modular schooling on April 3, 2020 after which, they would have returned to their respective indigenous communities.”

The pandemic obviously hampered the supposed return of some 42 students, four teachers and elders to their home villages, and thus the SVD provided them shelter and fed them while plans for their return are being expedited.

There must be proper accounting of the “rescue” conduct as public pressure for clarity mounts. Government agencies supposedly tasked to the care of children were in the operation and apparently failed to protect the latter from the trauma that the incident brought. As if the wounds of being displaced from their homes in the war-ravaged villages in Mindanao weren’t enough. The mess that the supposed “rescue” had become, the suspicious motivations that created such an impossible narrative of saving the children are something that the public must closely watch.

Above all, the children must be given the chance to speak for themselves. That we must need to ensure.