PRO 7 ‘rescues’ 19 indigenous minors from Cebu retreat house

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A TOTAL of 19 minors were rescued from the University of San Carlos (USC) retreat house through an operation done by the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7, Women and Children Protection Center Visayas Field Office 7, the Department of Social Welfare and Development 7 and the Municipal Social Welfare and Services on Feb. 15, 2021.

This, after six parents from the Manobo tribe in Talaingod town, Davao del Norte sought help from the Municipal Social Welfare and Services when their children went missing.

The Davao del Norte local government was quick to offer financial aid to the parents so that they could leave for Cebu City.

The minors were rescued at 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 15 inside the retreat house located in Brgy. Talamban, Cebu City.

The police also arrested the seven suspects said to have brought the minors to Cebu without their parents’ permission.

According to Police Brigadier General Ronnie Montejo, PRO 7 chief, the parents revealed to them that their children were brought to the “Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon” Community Learning Center in 2018.

Montejo said the center is run by a communist group that uses it as a front to lure children and make it a breeding ground and recruitment center for natives to fight the government.

The parents agreed to file three charges against the detainees: kidnapping with serious illegal detention, violation of RA 9208 or the Anti-Human Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 and child abuse.

Tribe leader Datu Benito Bay-Ao said they came to Cebu as the schools in their town were ordered to close by the Department of Education and they wanted the children to continue their education here.

They were supposed to go back to Davao in April 2020 but failed due to the lockdown.

The minors are temporarily housed at the Department of Social Welfare and Services.

Social Welfare Officer 3 Anecita Suico said the children will undergo interviews while their return to Davao is being arranged.

Meanwhile, the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) Philippines Southern Province and USC issued a joint statement to address the matter.

The SVD said in support of the Archdiocese of Cebu-Commission on Social Advocacies (Cosa) project “Save Our Schools (SOS) Network,” it hosted on March 11, 2020 the delegation of 42 students accompanied by five teachers and three community elders at the retreat house.

“It thus, came as a surprise that reports about minors being ‘rescued’ surfaced today. 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 statement read.

Suico said in response to the statement: “In rescue operations, the social worker would always go first, followed by the police. I think we need the police for our safety and security.” (AYB / CCP)