Nalzaro: The Lumad 19 and the legal fronts

We won’t be surprised why left-leaning organizations and the legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (NPA) showed concern and sympathy to the plight of the 19 indigenous children, or Lumad, who were recently rescued by authorities inside a university campus. These communist allied organizations are using the children to advance their ideology.

Here’s a brief background: In 2019, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and even National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon pushed for the closure of Salugpungan Schools in the Davao Region claiming the NPA was allegedly using the schools in its recruitment of indigenous children into the communist movement and did not adhere to international norms and Philippine laws.

The military said the 55 Salugpungan schools catering to indigenous communities across the Davao Regions have been converted as breeding grounds for the NPA to promote its ideology that espouses the violent overthrow of the government. In that year, the Department of Education ordered the suspension of the permit to operate of the 55 schools operated and owned by the Salugpungan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Centers.

The military claimed that there were testimonies of former students of Salugpungan schools who eventually became volunteer teachers in Salugpungan in Talaingod, Davao del Norte that they were trained and brainwashed to become NPA warriors. Even tribal leaders who were former NPA members testified to this.

Because of the closure, the students went on different ways. Some were brought by personalities from the legal fronts to Davao City and other areas in the guise of providing them with a proper education. If you recall, in November 2018, National Democratic Front consultant and former Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo was arrested in a military checkpoint in Barangay Sto. Nino, Talaingod, Davao del Norte. He was accompanied by 14 minors, all students of Salugpungan. Ocampo was able to post bail for human trafficking and kidnapping.

Last January, one of the teachers and one of the accused together with Ocampo surrendered to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency in Region 10. The surrenderee confessed that he brought 13 minors to Cebu City, particularly to the University of San Carlos (USC) campus in Talamban. Prior to their coming here, the minors were brought to Davao City by a Salugpongan teacher named only as “Michelle.” They were transferred to Cebu.

The parents of the minors, indeed, gave their consent to bring their children to Davao City with the promise that they could visit them there. Since then, though, the parents had been looking for their children. Upon learning that their children were brought to Cebu, they reported it and coordinated with the Department of Social Welfare and Development office in Region 10, police and their tribal leaders.

Last Feb. 12, a plan for the rescue of the children was finalized in coordination with local authorities. A total of 19 Lumads were rescued: 13 from Talaingod, Davao del Norte, five from Sultan Kudarat and one from Zamboanga City. Seven personalities, who acted as “guardians” of the minors, including Chad Ramirez Booc, were arrested. They were charged with kidnapping with serious illegal detention and violating the anti-human trafficking law.

According to a police intelligence report, Booc is a known left-leaning personality. He graduated cum laude at the University of the Philippines Diliman with a course in Computer Science. He is known on social media for criticizing and condemning alleged militarization in Lumad communities. He was a volunteer teacher in a Lumad alternative school in Surigao del Sur. Prior to his recent arrest, he was arrested for joining anti-government protests in Metro Manila.

There was a lot of brouhaha about how the “rescue operation” conducted by the inter-agency task force was carried out. Some sectors and the USC administration questioned it. But it was a legitimate action because there was a complaint from the parents of the minors. If government authorities did not act on the complaint, they would have also been blamed. As to the execution of the operation, there might have been lapses. But at least, the authorities acted with dispatch on the complaint. Well, our democratic and legal system are still working. Let the law take its own course.

As to Today’s Carolinian, the school publication of USC, criticizing Cebu’s media in its reportage on the “rescue operation,” it is understandable because the publication is part of the educational institution. It’s no big deal and it’s not worth answering. School organ staffers do not know the workings in the “real media” world. Let the public decide if Cebu’s mainstream media was remiss in its coverage of the operation.