Group calls on immediate release of lumads

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THE Save Our Schools (SOS) Network Cebu called on the police for the immediate release of the 26 indigenous individuals—22 students, two teachers, and two elders—who were allegedly arrested at the University of San Carlos (USC) retreat house on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021.

The group made this call during a press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

“The SOS Network Cebu, which is composed of different civil and cause-oriented organizations, church-based groups, academic institutions, and other supporting organizations, vehemently condemned the raid and arrest yesterday,” the group said.

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During the press conference, the following representatives from different organizations gave these statements:

Regletto Imbong, convener of the SOS Network Cebu said:

• The militarization is caused by the government’s efforts to force them out of their ancestral land to make way for mining companies and foreign corporations.

• “The Lumad Bakwit School, which was launched in UP Cebu in October 2019, is an effort from the Lumad community to continue their education despite the militarization of their communities, which has worsened over the decades,” Imbong said.

• Different activities that the Bakwit School has launched since arriving in Cebu in October 2019 included a visit to different schools, such as Southwestern University PHINMA and St. Scholastica’s Academy in Tabunok, Talisay City.

Fr. Rogelio Bag-ao, SVD, provincial superior of SVD Philippines Southern Province (that manages the retreat house inside the USC-TC) said:

• The children have video calls with their parents and he himself follows up with the students to ask if they miss their parents.

• “One reason why the Bakwit School was delayed in going home was because of the lockdown. We even had discussions with DepEd on how best to allow the Lumad to continue their education despite the lockdown. We found ways, with the help of SOS, to distribute modules provided by DepEd themselves.”

• Another reason for the delay of the return home of the Lumads is because of the quarantine restrictions and travel requirements, including the COVID-19 swab tests.

• Welcoming the Lumads into the university is part of their mission and that the students would even benefit from their presence. “We have to produce good, loving, compassionate leaders in the future,” he said.

Angel Mediola, acting vice-president of USC-Supreme Student Council said:

• The USC community are “zones of peace.”

• “At USC, we believe in standing with the oppressed and in supporting children’s right to education. That is why the USC admin, the USC faculty, wholeheartedly welcomed the Lumad bakwit inside the university,” she said.

• Lumad students were not hidden or kept away, as manifested by the different schools and churches that they were able to visit. All the belongings of the students were kept safely at the retreat house, which the police seized.

• “It is ironic to hear the words ‘rescue’ from the PNP when it is the state forces that have killed Lumad and Lumad leaders. It is state forces that inflict violence on the Lumad,” Mendiola said.

COSA of the Archdiocese of Cebu in a statement said:

• The Bakwit School is a celebration of dialogue and an act of solidarity to our Lumad brothers and sisters whose communities and schools were bombed and militarized.

• They called on all peace-loving Cebuanos who have supported the Bakwit School since 2019 to express support for the Lumad children.

• They need our help and support once again as it seems that what we thought was a safe place for learning and sanctuary for the stranded is shattered by terrifying and illegal acts that transpired yesterday.

• COSA also called on the police and the government to resist following orders that undermine the rights and human dignity of Filipinos.

Joint statement

In a joint statement signed by Cebu Archbishop Jose S. Palma (representing the Archdiocese of Cebu), Bag-ao of SVD Philippines Southern Province, and Fr. Narciso Cellan Jr., USC president:

• While COSA mentioned that some parents were coming over to fetch their children, it did not dawn on us that the parents’ visit will necessitate the presence of policemen.

• Here, no rescue need ever be conducted because the presence of the Lumads in the retreat house was for their welfare and well-being, and all throughout, they were nurtured, cared for, and treated with their best interest in mind.

The joint statement was updated with Palma’s signature and published on SVD Philippines - South Facebook page on Monday, Feb. 15. (SunStar Cebu/With PR)