Responding to news that 7 people – three adult Lumad students, two community elders (datu) and two teachers – were charged with kidnapping, human trafficking and child trafficking after a police operation at the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu City supposedly to “rescue” Lumad children, Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s deputy research director for the East, Southeast Asia and Pacific region, said:
“The raid on USC to supposedly ‘rescue’ Lumad children and arrest students and teachers is deeply alarming. The University of San Carlos and Cebu City’s social welfare services who have been talking to the Lumad children have already dismissed police claims that the children were being held captive and trained as ‘future armed combatants’.
“Lumad children have always been victimized and have been forced to flee their communities because of violence. Their schools have been shut down. President Duterte himself said clearly that he will bomb the Lumad communities, including the children’s schools.
“Under the Duterte administration, we have seen an increase of allegations by the military that these Lumad groups are ‘terrorists’. The reality is these communities have been caught for years in armed clashes between the military and armed groups. The Anti-Terrorism Act that has recently been adopted makes these groups more vulnerable to further human rights violations. Amnesty International observed that since the law’s enactment, attacks against Indigenous peoples, including arrests and killings, have intensified.
“We call on the authorities to drop the charges against the 7 individuals arrested and order their immediate release, unless there is credible evidence of any wrongdoing on their part. We also call on the authorities to allow the minors who are now in the custody of the PNP’s Women and Children Protection Desk to have access to their families and release them at the soonest possible time.”
On 15 February 2021, police and military carried out a raid on the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. 21 Lumad students and teachers, including 19 minors, were taken by police; the minors were later transferred to the custody of the PNP Women and Children Protection Desk.
Seven were arrested without warrant, including volunteer teacher Chad Booc who is also one of the petitioners against the anti-terror law currently being deliberated by the Supreme Court. They underwent inquest proceedings on 17 February for the non-bailable charge of kidnapping, as well as human trafficking and child trafficking.