Celebrate the vindication of ‘Bakwit 7’

Published May 15, 2021, 12:03 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz
Tonyo Cruz

Last February 15, Filipinos woke up to news that the police violently raided the Lumad Bakwit School in Cebu, and arrested seven teachers and students. Resorting to red-tagging, authorities claimed that the students and teachers there had all been “kidnapped” by communist terrorists.

General Antonio Parlade and Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy,  spokespersons of NTF-ELCAC, wasted no time claiming that the teachers and students had been “mercifully saved” by government, and that the operation reunited long-torn family members, complete with manipulated sob stories and photos for massive sharing.

The then-chief of the Philippine National Police Debold Sinas also joined the fray, lecturing the Lumad students about obedience to authority and even saying that a student was “manipulated” simply because the student tried to assert Miranda Rights.

Fast forward to today: The Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Davao del Norte has dismissed the charges against the so-called “Bakwit 7” for  insufficiency of evidence, lack of probable cause and for being outside the territorial jurisdiction of the office.

The prosecutor also ordered the police to immediately release Chad Errol Booc, Segundo Lagatos Melong, Benito Dalim Bay-ao, Moddie Langayed Mansimoy-at, Esmelito Paumba Oribawan, Roshelle Mae C. Porcadilla, and Jomar Benag.

What charges were filed by the police against them, and which the prosecutor dismissed? According to the “Bakwit 7” counsels, the authorities filed three criminal complaints including violations of the Child Abuse Law, Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, and kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

For the family and friends of Booc, an engineering graduate of the University of the Philippines, the charges were an attempt to twist his advocacy for helping educate the Lumad children against him. He was accused of kidnapping the Lumad children, holding them against their will and “abusing” them. It was a gross and cheap attempt at gaslighting, if you ask me.

For the Lumad children, the prosecutor’s resolution affirmed their dignity and their claim to the right to education.

The prosecutor issued the resolution on May 5, according to the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-Cebu Chapter, which served as counsel for “Bakwit 7” alongside the Visayas Community Law Center.

According to lawyer King Anthony Perez, NUPL-Cebu spokesperson, the prosecutor’s resolution dismissing the charges against the “Bakwit 7” “validates our firm assertion that the persistent red-tagging efforts on Lumad schools by the State forces are baseless and unfounded.”

The prosecutor’s decision dismissing the charges and ordering the release of the “Bakwit 7” is a powerful indictment of the red-tagging policy and practice of government as articulated by the NTF-ELCAC. The raid on the Lumad Bakwit School in Cebu was not only violent as seen in videos, but its fruit lacked any legal legs and facts to stand on. If the NTF-ELCAC were right, the cases would have prospered. But the prosecutor courageously saw through the lies: evidence was insufficient and there no probable cause for the charges.

This is not the first legal defeat of the NTF-ELCAC.

Last October 2020, the Department of Justice dismissed kidnapping charges against the Anakbayan, Kabataan representative Sarah Elago, former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares and Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, over the alleged disappearance of a youth activist.

“Prosecutors find no sufficient ground to continue with the investigation for failure of the complainants to show in their evidence the presence of the elements of the crimes by which they are charging the respondents,” the DOJ decision said.

The decision also said that “Anakbayan is just a comprehensive national mass organization of the Filipino youth that is advocating for jobs, land reform, education, rights and justice.”

Speaking for herself, AJ Lucena denied being kidnapped and assailed the government for turning her mother against her.

A month before, the Supreme Court denied a petition for the issuance of a writ of amparo and of a writ of habeas corpus in favor of Lucena’s mother, an effort endorsed by the NTF-ELCAC spokespersons.

“AJ, in the eyes of the State, has earned the right to make independent choices with respect to the places where she wants to stay, as well as to the persons whose company she wants to keep,” said the court, in ruling that there’s no “disappearance” that merited the issuance of either writ.

Today, we celebrate another triumph of truth and justice. The “Bakwit 7” should be free soon. The red-taggers have lost another celebrated legal case. The struggle for dignity and rights moves forward.