CEBU CITY – The presence of the Lumad children from Davao del Norte in a retreat house of a university here had the permission of their parents.

This was the claim of the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network Cebu, which facilitated the Lumad children’s stay in Cebu as members of the Lumad Bakwit school.

University of the Philippines-Cebu Professor Regletto Imbong, convenor of Save of Schools (SOS) Network-Cebu, alleged that the continued destruction of ancestral lands and the purported abuses suffered by Lumads for being the source of recruitment of the New People’s Army forced them to flee from their communities.

Imbong said some of the Lumad children fled to Davao, Manila and Cebu.

It is because of the Lumad’s plight that the SOS Network was created in 2018, Imbong said.

According to Imbong, the SOS Network partnered with different schools for the creation of the Lumad Bakwit School program in October 28, 2018.

The 19 children that the police rescued from USC-TC’s retreat house last Monday were beneficiaries of the program.

Imbong said the 19 children belonging to Manobo tribe in Davao del Norte had already completed the initial phase of study.

The children’s stay at the retreat house of the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus was prolonged due to the travel restrictions that imposed because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

But Imbong said the children were already scheduled to leave in April this year.

The police said they rescued the 19 Lumad children upon the request of their parents.

The police have said the children had not gone home since 2018 and their parents were unaware that their children were brought to Cebu.

But Imbong said the parents had signed documents allowing their children to take part in the Lumad Bakwit school in Cebu.

“They have the needed papers. These children, being minors, could not cross seaports without the needed documents,” Imbong said.

Imbong said SOS Network can present papers to prove that the children’s stay at the retreat house of USC-TC for more than two years was permitted by the parents.

On the claims by the police that it was the parents who sought assistance for the rescue of their children, Imbong said: “I don’t know what were the things that the police taught them.”

In a joint statement, the Archdiocese of Cebu, Society of Divine Word (SVD) Philippines Southern Province and the University of San Carlos confirmed supporting the Bakwit School Program of SOS Network.

“For this, the SVD hosted March 11, 2020 the delegation of the 42 students accompanied by five teachers and three community elders (Datu), after four other education institutions in Cebu hosted the same,” read the statement.

The groups said the students completed their modular schooling last April 3, 2020 and were scheduled to return to their indigenous communities.

Fr. Rogelio Bag-ao, provincial supervisor of SVD Southern Philippines, said that in his several visits, there were no indications that the children’s stay at the retreat house was without the consent of their parents.

“Every now and then, I visit them and I can see them vide-calling with their parents. I cannot understand why they were reports that these children were missing for three years already,” Fr. Bag-ao said.

Bag-ao said there were also times that he sat in with their children’s classes.

“They were using the Department of Education (method) but with more emphasis on environment and farming,” said Fr. Bag-ao.

Fr. Bag-ao said they supported the Bakwit School program to “prepare young minds, produce graduate to lead us in the future.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (