CHR-7 begins investigation on Lumads ‘rescue’ operation
CEBU CITY, Philippines—The Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) has started its investigation on the “rescue” operation involving Lumads last February 15, 2021.
CHR-7 chief investigator Leo Villarino, in a phone interview with reporters on Wednesday, February 17, confirmed they began gathering information on the operation on Tuesday, February 16.
“We have started doing interviews with the Lumad minors yesterday (Tuesday),” Villarino said in a mix of Cebuano and English.
Villarino said they will not only look into possible violations made by officials from the government, particularly the police, who led the operation but also on organizers and the university of possible lapses in bringing the Lumad minors away from their homes in Davao del Norte.
“During the so-called rescue, were there any rights violated? Were force and intimidation used? Where are they being kept right now and were these violation of their rights? These are the kind of possible violations the CHR is interested to look into,” said Villarino.
“They (university and organizers of bakwit school program) are already part of the story and incidents. And they also need to be asked, considering the complaints from the parents who said their children were away with them without their proper consent,” he added.
On Tuesday, the central office of CHR announced they will step in and conduct their own investigation on the “rescue” operation the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) and state social workers conducted last February 15 within the premises of the Talamban, Cebu City campus of University of San Carlos (USC-Talamban).
26 Lumads and adults were escorted out of the retreat house owned by priests from the Society of Divine Word (SVD) Philippines Southern Province.
However, seven of them were arrested and police will be filing charges of kidnapping and illegal detention against them.
Once finished, CHR-7 will send the complete report of their investigation, along with their own recommendations, to their central office for further action.
In the meantime, Villarino said they are working to get the side of the police, parents of the Lumad minors who sought assistance to the authorities, executives and priests of USC, and organizers from the Commission on Social Advocacies of the Archdiocese of Cebu, and Save Our Schools Network, the groups behind the “bakwit school” program for displaced indigenous people.
“With the help of the Commission, we can help with the transparency issues of the incident,” he said.
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