Update June 2021:
In the course of the “rescue operation” of February 15, seven people (3 students, 2 teachers and 2 community leaders [referred to as “datu” in indigenous Lumad communities in Mindanao]) were arrested, which is now referred to as the “Bakwit School 7” case. On May 5, the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor (OPP) of Davao del Norte dismissed all charges and after three months of detention they were finally released on May 14.
The NGO Save Our Schools Network (SOS), calls anew to defund and abolish the NTF-ELCAC and says: “We condemn the NTF-ELCAC as they have destroyed the students’ rights to education through red-tagging and militarizing the DepEd that led to the closure of Lumad schools in Mindanao.” The case gives voice to more criticism of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), especially after Lorraine Badoy spokesman NTF-ELCAC threatened to continue the case against the “Bakwit School 7.” Since the NTF-ELCAC refers to it as a “live case” they pushed to postpone the hearing of the House committee on human rights, which investigates the illegal detention.
Background: At least 19 students and their teachers have been forcefully removed from the campus of the University of San Carlos-Talamban (USC) by the PNP who claim they were “rescuing” them. The students were allegedly being indoctrinated by the communist rebel movement NPA. Some teachers tried to hide the Lumad students in order to protect them from being taken by the police. These teachers now face charges of kidnapping and child abuse. Videos of the “rescue operation” clearly show that the students were taken against their will and not being rescued as the police claims.
Due to political tension between the government and the communist rebels, indigenous groups like the Lumad are often victims of military harassment, land grabbing, forced evacuations and extrajudicial killings. Lumad schools are regularly being red-tagged and subsequently closed. In order to continue pursuing their education in a safe environment these students had, according to Rappler, travelled to Cebu where they were able to continue learning in makeshift facilities, the so-called Lumad Bakwit Schools. These Bakwit schools are led by church groups and academic institutions in Davao, Metro Manila and Cebu. Due to the lockdown and the resulting travel restrictions the students had to postpone the return to their home. Meanwhile, the minor students have been transferred back home. This return was effected without the consent of their parents.
The Commission of Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) refuses the alleged indoctrination of the students. International organisations such as Human Rights Watch and the International Coalition for Human Rights demand immediate demilitarization of indigenous schools and the protection of the children’s rights to education. Several human rights organisations and government officials demand a probe for this “rescue” measure.