CEBU CITY – The Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Davao del Norte has ordered the release of the seven persons who were arrested last February following a controversial police operation involving a group of Lumad children at a retreat house here.
Complaints for alleged violation of the Child Abuse Law, Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, and kidnapping and serious illegal detention that were filed against the seven persons collectively known as “Bakwit School 7” were dismissed.
The seven persons include Chad Errol Booc, Segundo Lagatos Melong, Benito Dalim Bay-ao, Moddie Langayed Mansimoy-at, Esmelito Paumba Oribawan, Roshelle Mae C. Porcadilla and Jomar Benag.
“The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) Cebu Chapter welcomes the dismissal of all criminal raps filed against the “Bakwit School 7,” said lawyer King Anthony Perez, spokesperson of NUPL Cebu.
All respondents, except Porcadilla, are clients of NUPL Cebu and the Visayas Community Law Center (VCLC), said Perez.
The respondents were arrested last February 15 after police removed at least 19 children from retreat houses of the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) Philippines Southern Province at the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus (USC-TC).
It was the Save Our Schools Network (SOSN)-Cebu who brought the children to Cebu as part of its “bakwit school program” for displaced Lumad children.
The police had alleged that the children had been staying at the retreat house since 2019 and were allegedly used for militant and leftist activities.
In the May 5 resolution that was approved by Provincial Prosecutor Norman Solis, the complaints were dismissed for being outside the territorial jurisdiction of the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Davao del Norte.
Insufficiency of evidence and lack of probable cause to support any of the crimes allegedly committed by the respondents were also cited in the dismissal of the complaints.
As of this writing, only Booc was released from the holding facility of the Police Regional Office-Central Visayas Headquarters as the six others were still processing their release papers, Perez said.