CLB: Lumad children were ‘seized’ not ‘rescued,’ best interest for children ignored
CEBU CITY, Philippines — The Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB) said the so-called “rescue operations” of the Philippine National Police (PNP) for the Lumad children at a retreat house situated at the University of San Carlos (USC)-Talamban Campus on Monday, February 15, 2021, was deplorable and essentially a “seizure” of the students.
“The Philippine National Police (PNP) called it a rescue, but video clips circulating online show that it was indeed an arrest, a baseless and unauthorized one. There was a serious breach of protocols as children were subjected to a horrendous and traumatic experience of being taken from a situation of safety to uncertainty,” said CLB in a statement.
The CLB insists that the children were not in a situation of danger when they were taken from the custody of their guardians, their teachers, and tribal leaders under the auspices and care of the USC and the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) community, with the endorsement from the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission on Social Advocacies (COSA).
The Lumad students have reportedly been there for almost a year, beginning March of 2020, and were sheltered by the SVD priests with the support of different groups, while the pandemic has prevented them from going home.
“The children did nothing wrong. Seeking refuge to finish school is not a crime. Authorities failed to have the best interest of these children in mind, or they would have sought a child-friendly way in taking custody of the children,” said the group.
CLB also noted that the police did not coordinate with the Archdiocese of Cebu, in which authority the COSA is acting upon, nor have they coordinated with the SVD community.
They claimed the police had failed to arrange a more humane and peaceful reunion between the students and their parents and that the Cebu City Department of Social Welfare and Services (DSWS) had failed to protect the welfare of the children by allowing live media coverage of the “seizure.”
“It shall also be highlighted that only six (6) of the sixteen (16) minors taken by police have parents or relatives who have allegedly called the authorities to assist in claiming the students. It begs the question of whether the police and social workers have the authority to take custody of the other ten (10) minors found in the retreat house at the time of the operation,” said CLB.
The CLB is also seeking the fate of the children in custody as they have been inaccessible except for media interviews, which they said should have been disallowed for the protection of the children and their interests.
“Now, the children are being tagged as warrior trainees–an obvious sensationalism of the experiences of the children. The Children’s Legal Bureau is calling on the PNP to respect the rights of these children as well as their guardians, and for the social welfare services to review their sworn duty to always protect the best interest of these children. A full investigation by the concerned agencies and appropriate government offices shall be conducted to make violators of child protection laws liable for the significant lapses during the police operation,” said the CLB.
The Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) said in recent statements that the children had already been placed under the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The police has also filed charges of child abuse against the Lumad teachers claiming that they had brought the children to Cebu without the consent of the parents.
Cebu City DSWS representatives have not responded to queries sent by CDN Digital as of the time of writing.
The Children’s Legal Bureau or CLB is a nongovernment organization whose mission is to empower communities to promote justice for children through legal assistance, training and advocacy./dbs
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