Return the 14 Salugpongan students to their parents! Stop attacks on Lumad schools!

Coni Ledesma
NDFP Special Office for the Protection of Children
4 December 2018

NDFP Special Office for the Protection of Children head Coni Ledesma

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines Special Office for the Protection of Children (NDFP SOPC) strongly condemns the continuing illegal detention and endangerment of students of the Salugpongan School in Talaingod, Davao del Norte by elements of the 56th IB, PNP-Talaingod and the Alamara paramilitary group.

The students, age 15 to 17 years old, along with their teachers and school staff have been suffering harassment at the hands of the Alamara since classes opened last June. The harassment stepped up in October, with the flow of food and school supplies blocked by the paramilitaries and finally, with the padlocking of the school on November 28. Locked out of their dormitories, the students were forced to evacuate and seek sanctuary elsewhere.

Leaders of a humanitarian mission led by former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and ACT Partylist Rep. France Castro who rescued the students, teachers and staff off the streets were arrested and slapped with the absurd charge of kidnapping and human trafficking. The arrestees, collectively known as the Talaingod 18 have since been freed on bail, but were harassed by the police as they left the court house.

The 14 students rescued by Ocampo’s group, however, are still being detained by the Talaingod Municipal Social Welfare Office (MSWO) even if their parents had already come to claim them. The MSWO refuses to release the students without clearance from the Talaingod PNP, as if they were criminals. The MSWO is also ridiculously demanding that the parents present proof of their ability to support their children, hinting that the latter could be forcibly institutionalized or placed in foster care and permanently separated from their parents! The MSWO might as well ask this for majority of the suffering and toling masses mird in poverty.

There are even unconfirmed reports that the military, Alamara and MSWO have been putting strong pressure on parents to file compaints against Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and the 18 arrestees before they could see or have their children released. They are using the detained children as hostage for the filing of the case against Bayan Muna Rep Satur Ocampo. Partylist Rep France Castro and the others in the Talaingod 18.

The SOPC deplores the hypocrisy of the Talaingod PNP and MSWO who did not lift a finger when the lives and welfare of the Salugpongan students were being threatened by the Alamara at the instigation of the 56th IB. Now they act as witting tools not only in persecuting the students’ rescuers, but in detaining the students and preventing them from being reunited with their families.

Amid widespread condemnation of the arrest of the Talaingod 18, DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano stuck out like a sore thumb as he publicly commended the Talaingod PNP for arresting Ocampo’s group and repeated the ridiculous accusations of kidnapping, human trafficking and child abuse.

In reality, it is the Duterte regime that has been violating the rights of Lumad children. There have been 535 cases of attacks on Lumad schools under the Duterte regime, an average of one to two attacks per day. According to the Save our Schools (SOS) Network, the attacks range from encampment in schools, torture, threats and harassment, denial of humanitarian aid, illegal arrests, Red-tagging, false/forcible surrenders, and destruction and forcible closure of schools.

Up to 2,209 Lumad students have been forced to drop out and 56 Lumad schools forcibly closed due to intense military operations in Mindanao. In Sarangani province, 63 students and 12 volunteer teachers survived aerial bombings in their communities. A total of 7,766 Lumad students and 451 volunteer teachers were threatened, harassed and intimidated by the AFP, paramilitaries and local government units.

Up to 385 or 72% of the total documented cases of attacks on schools occurred under martial law in Mindanao.

Enough of these cruel violations of children’s rights!

The SOPC calls for an end to the trauma of the 14 Salugpongan students and their reunification with their families.

It moreover demands an end to the harassment and forccible closure of Lumad schools.

Uphold the Lumad children’s right to an education that teaches them the value and importance of defending their land and culture!