MANILA – Deputy Speaker Michael Romero on Wednesday urged the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Department of National Defense (DND) to enter into an accord with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) that would prevent police and military raids in indigenous people (IP) schools.
Romero made the call during the House Committee on Human Rights’ hearing on the rescue operations conducted 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.
He said the proposed accord could be similar to the 1989 University of the Philippines (UP)-DND agreement that prevented state forces from entering any of its campuses.
“I propose that a similar accord be entered into by the NCIP, PNP, DND to ensure that no indigenous people learning institution will suffer this same event as what happened on February 15, 2021,” Romero said.
He said the AFP and PNP have to secure prior notification should they have operations within the premises of the IP learning institution.
Romero noted that the Department of Justice has dismissed the criminal charges filed against the seven respondents who were arrested during the supposed rescue operations for IP students inside the Cebu City university.
Earlier, the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the kidnapping, serious illegal detention, human trafficking, and child abuse charges against Chad Errol Booc, Segundo Lagatos Melong, Benito Dalim Bay-ao, Moddie Langayed Mansimoy-at, Esmelito Paumba Oribawan, Roshelle Mae C. Porcadilla and Jomar Benag.
“It appears that there is insufficient evidence to support any of the alleged crimes of kidnapping, and serious illegal detention, human trafficking and child abuse committed by (the) respondents,” Romero said.
Romero earlier appealed to the PNP leadership to sack the officers involved in the rescue operations inside the university while the House investigation is ongoing.
Lack of jurisdiction
For his part, Lawyer Marlon Bosantog, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) spokesperson for Legal Affairs and IP Concerns, said the dismissal was due to a lack of jurisdiction.
He clarified that there were findings in the prosecutor’s resolution that the elements of the crimes were actually committed, “it just so happens that the crimes committed were out of jurisdiction of Davao del Norte, so the filing of the case is improper."
He added that the crimes were committed while transporting the 19 IP students from Davao del Norte to the University of San Carlos in Cebu City.
A police report said 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.
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. (PNA)