MANILA – A spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)on Wednesday emphasized the need to put an end to crimes committed against indigenous people (IP) children, noting that they are experiencing the same pattern of radicalization that could eventually harm them.
Gaye Florendo, NTF-ELCAC assistant spokesperson for the Public Affairs and on Indigenous Peoples Concerns, made the remark during the House Committee on Human Rights’ hearing on the rescue operations by the police and military for IP children who were held against their will at the University of San Carlos campus in Cebu City last February.
“We are seeing the same pattern of activities and radicalization at parehong katanungan bakit kailangan dalhin galing sa kabundukan ng Talaingod, Davao del Norte papuntang Cebu? Bakit kailangang ilayo at walang contact sa mga magulang ng tatlong taon (and we have the same question, why do they need to bring them from the mountains of Talaingod, Davao del Norte to Cebu? Why do they need to be separated without contact with their families for three years)?” she said.
Florendo said the NTF-ELCAC has several testimonies from personal conversations to prove that “what is going on in these schools are very different from what we are hearing today.”
“May mga ocular inspections which found itong mga bakwit schools to be run like training camps, walang free and prior informed consent from the IP community, walang (Department of Education) accreditation, Mr. Chair. Mga gurong walang accreditation, walang learner’s number, at may sarili pang national anthem, Mr. Chair. Magugulat po kayo (There were ocular inspections which found that these evacuate schools are run like training camps, without free and prior informed consent from the IP community, no DepEd accreditation, Mr. Chair. Teachers with no accreditation, learner’s number, and they even have their own national anthem. You’ll be surprised),” she added.
Florendo also noted that kids as young as five years old were already taught political discourses which ultimately led to a disconnection with their families.
She emphasized that the government should not be condemned for doing its job of safeguarding IPs from communist recruitment and indoctrination.
At the hearing, NTF-ELCAC spokesperson on legal affairs and IP concerns, lawyer Marlon Bosantog strongly rebuked House Resolution No 1590 entitled “Resolution Urging the House of Representatives through the Committee on Human Rights, to condemn and investigate, the raid and mass arrests against Lumad evacuees seeking sanctuary in Talamban Cebu by elements of police and the military”, claiming that it assumes a “prematurity that has neither basis in fact nor in law, in the simple conscience of man or due process of law.”
“This resolution, if nothing else, aims to create a prejudgment, bias, and prejudice against the State without the facts undergoing the scrutiny of procedural due process. The Honorable Secretary (National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.) wishes to invoke due courtesy due to a coordinated branch of the government. Respect for a coordinate branch reinforced by the traditional courtesy that marks inter-departmental relations, as the Supreme Court defines it. And arguing further in this line, the resolution, unashamed, aims to diminish and erode the constitutional principle of interdepartmental courtesy, where a co-equal branch of government operates under the power vested to it by the same Constitution. Without proof and establishment of wrongdoing, we stand today on the precipice of outright condemnation,” Bosantog said.
Bosantog also pointed out the fact that the resolution was designed to condemn and investigate in a manner like “putting the cart before the horse.”
“Your Honors, the title of the resolution alone admits the attempt to hide wrongdoing. The phrase lumad evacuees seeking sanctuary also meant minor children as young as 13 years old trafficked without the consent of their parents and harbored and confiscated in areas living together in a cramped environment with adults not their parents or kin,” he said.
“To declare also there is a mass arrest is outright falsehood, almost if not all rescued children were reunited with their parents and were brought back to their communities or ancestral domains, and not all arrested individuals are members of the indigenous cultural communities. These are uncontestable facts, yet there is an attempt to obviate the truth to create and peddle a desirable falsehood,” he added.
He later asked the House panel to defer its scheduled hearing, citing that the subject is a “live case”, among others.
Reports showed that of the 19 rescued IP students, 15 are minors — nine are from Talaingod, Davao del Norte, five from Sultan Kudarat, and one from Zamboanga. Their ages are said to be between 14 and 17 years old while four others from Talaingod, Davao del Norte are above 18 years old.
The children were reportedly taken away from their families by teachers of Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanogon without the parents' consent. (With reports from Priam Nepomuceno-PNA)