Seven persons have been cleared of criminal charges in the alleged kidnapping of 19 Lumad children “to be trained as communist rebel fighters” but were rescued by the Philippine National Police (PNP) at the University of San Carlos Retreat House (USCRH) in Cebu City last Feb. 15.
In a 13-page resolution dated May 5, the Davao del Norte Office of the Provincial Prosecutor dismissed the charges filed by the PNP “for insufficiency of evidence, lack of probable cause, and being outside the territorial jurisdiction of this Office.”
“All told, 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 respondents Segundo Lagatos Melong, Benito Dalim Bay-ao, Moddie Langayed Mansimoy-at, Esmelito Paumba Oribawan, Chad Errol Booc, Roshelle Mae C. Porcadilla and Jomar Benag,” the resolution stated.
“Even when there are indications of acts committed by said respondents that would fit the elements of the above-mentioned crimes, these acts either happened at Davao City or at Cebu City, outside the territorial jurisdiction of this Office,” it added.
The Provincial Prosecutor’s Office noted that the PNP conducted the rescue operation last. Feb 15 based on the complaints of the parents who are members of the Ata-Manobo tribe residing in Sitio Kamingawan, Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
The parents claimed in their affidavit that their children were former students of the Salugpungan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center in Barangay Palma Gil in Talaingod and, after the school closed down, agreed to have their children transferred to Sitio Tibucag in Barangay Dagohoy, Talaingod.
“Sometime in December 2020, however, the parents learned from a fellow tribal member from UCCP (United Church of Christ in the Philippines) Haran, Davao City that their children had already been sent to Cebu. The parents thus asked for help from the Tribal Elders as well as the Local Government,” the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office said.
It said it also received from the complainants the sworn statement of former Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) member Ariel Tabal Ansan who claims to be a former teacher of the Salugpungan School which he said were being run and used by the CPP “as recruitment and indoctrination centers for minors.”
“At USCRH, Ansan again taught minors the ideologies and methodologies of the CPP. Among his co-teachers, he identified respondents Roshell Porcadilla, Segundo Melong, Benito Bay-ao, and Chad Erol Booc who, like him, instigated their students to go against the government in consonance with the teachings of the CPP-NPA. Ansan identified respondents Moddie Mansimoy-at and Jomar Benag as students who had been radicalized and influenced by the CPP-NPA’s doctrines that they were encouraging and recruiting the youth to join the CPP-NPA,” it cited.
However, it pointed out that the respondents (those charged) cannot be held liable for kidnapping and serious illegal detention since “not a single witness from the side of the Complainants were able to identify who took the minors from Talaingod, Davao del Norte.”
It added that neither Ansan nor Porcadilla, who sought to be discharged as state witnesses, were not “able to name who deprived the liberty of the minors of Talaingod.”
It also noted that aside from not letting the children out of USCRH and communicating with their parents, police said respondents refused to release the minors to their parents during the rescue operation.
To this, the prosecution office argued that “such deprivation of liberty happened at the University of San Carlos Retreat house in Talamban, Cebu City which is outside of the jurisdiction of this Office.”
The prosecution office also made similar justifications in dismissing the trafficking in persons allegations.
“The allegations, however, suffer the same infirmity as the one discussed in the Kidnapping and Illegal Detention charge,” it said.
The prosecutor’s office said the charge of child abuse can be attributed to “the brain-washing, exposure of the children to communist ideologies, and even the active encouragement of the children to join the CPP-NPA.”
“As told by Asan and Porcadilla, these acts all happened in Cebu City, outside the territorial jurisdiction of this Office. Asan mentioned that the exposure and indoctrination of the children in communist ideologies started in the Salugpungan schools in Talaingod but he did not name any of the arrested respondents as the ones who educated the children in the manner, time and place,” it said.