MANILA (Updated) -- Police arrested in Davao del Norte on Wednesday, November 28, former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo, ACT Teachers Representative France Castro and several others over alleged trafficking of minors.
The Police Regional Office (PRO)-Davao reported that personnel of Talaingod municipal police station and Municipal Social Welfare and Development, as well as elements of the 56th Infantry Battalion rescued 14 minors aged 14 to 17 years old inside five vans allegedly rented by the group led by Ocampo.
Ocampo was with Castro and 70 members of the National Solidarity Mission (NSM).
The police said the van carrying the minors and Ocampo’s group was held following an inspection at a checkpoint around 9 p.m. Wednesday, November 28, in Talaingod.
The minors, who were believed to have come from Salugpungan Learning Center, were being transported from Sitio Igang, Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte to Maco in Compostella Valley.
Ocampo and Castro were charged with violation of Republic Act 7610 or the anti-child abuse law and human trafficking.
“Based sa statement ng mga tribal leaders is that may pupunta dun sa kanila sa gabi, pupunta sa area nila sa purok. I forgot the purok basta sa Talaingod kung saan may Salugpungan na pina-close na nga mga tribal leaders...So kinukuha nila ‘yung mga minors together with the teachers at binababa nila,” said PRO-Davao spokesperson Chief Inspector Jason Baria.
“The tribal leaders are questioning bakit sila kinukuha ng ganun kagabi at ipupull out without the permission of the parents,” he added.
Baria said the tribal leaders in the area will be the primary complainant of the cases against Ocampo.
The ACT Teachers Party-list, however, maintained in a statement that the group was simply conducting a “national solidarity mission” after receiving reports about alleged harassment of the locals in the area.
"As of press time, about 15 to 20 members of Alamara are still harassing the students, teachers and locals. With their lives at risk, students and teachers are currently evacuating and a rescue mission is being conducted," the ACT Teachers said.
The Makabayan bloc, meanwhile, condemned the arrest, calling it "illegal."
It said the persons arrested belong to the NSM delegation, which is composed of 74 people, including 29 students and 12 teachers of Lumad schools in Davao del Norte.
“It would be a blatant and outrageous lie to accuse progressive lawmaker and former public school teacher Castro, former solon and peace advocate Ocampo, as well as the administrators of the Lumad school as child traffickers,” the Makabayan bloc said in a statement.
It said exploitation or prostitution of others, or "other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or the removal or sale of organs" are the "complete opposite to the objectives of the NSM team."
The group said the NSM aims to "give relief to students and teachers who are victimized by threats, harassments and the eventual forcible closure of their schools by the paramilitary group Alamara under the 56th Infantry Battalion."
It said the Talaingod police "clearly fabricated" the charges to detain the progressive leaders.
As of 4:17 p.m. Thursday, November 29, the Makabayan bloc said that 19 of the 74 members of the NSM who were arrested and charged with kidnapping and human trafficking have undergone a medical check-up at the Kapalong District Hospital. They also underwent inquest proceedings at Tagum City Hall of Justice.
It also said that prior to the detention of the NSM members, unidentified perpetrators threw nail spikes on the road to deflate the wheels of the vehicles of the group.
“While the wheels are being replaced, broken glass were thrown at another van of the delegates of the NSM. The van carrying Castro and Ocampo was hit by stones. The perpetrators even shot indiscriminately,” Makabayan said.
It said the NSM members were on their mission to provide immediate food relief and medical services to the community and schools in Talaingod that have been subjected to food shortage and food blockade for over a week now by the paramilitary group Alamara and the 56th IB.
“Since the arrival of the 56th IB in June 2018 and their encampment in the community and school premises in Sitio Nasilaban and Sitio Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil, classes in Salugpongan Learning Center’s campuses in Talaingod, Davao del Norte have been disrupted for the past few months. Students, teachers and community members have been subjected to threats, harassment, and intimidation in order to forcibly close the school,” it said.
The bloc called on the Talaingod police to immediately withdraw the charges filed against Ocampo, Castro and other members of the group. It also appealed to the government to hold the 56th Infantry Battalion and its paramilitary group Alamara accountable for the human rights violations committed against the Manobo community.
“We call on the PNP-Talaingod to immediately drop the trumped up charges against Castro, Ocampo and the school administrators. We demand for the whole delegation’s immediate and unconditional release,” it said.
The bloc has likewise called on House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to stand by the rights of all members of the House of Representatives and the members of the House of Representatives to condemn the act committed against their colleagues Ocampo and Castro. (SunStar Philippines)