FORTY days after the deaths of Lumad volunteer teacher Chad Booc and four others, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network and other groups honored their memory by planting five trees in front of the College of Engineering in the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City on Monday, April 4, 2022.

Booc, a Cebuano, was killed along with his fellow indigenous peoples and makeshift Bakwit schools volunteer teacher Gelejurain Ngujo II, community health worker Elegyn Balonga, and their accompanying drivers Tirso Añar and Robert Aragon in a reported armed encounter with the military in Barangay Andap, New Bataan, Davao de Oro last Feb. 24.

The tree-planting activity also symbolized the groups’ call for justice over their deaths of the four individuals they have labeled as New Bataan 5. The event carried the theme “Let a hundred flowers bloom for Justice.”

“Sinasabi na pagkatapos ng 40 araw mula pagpanaw, mapapalaya na ang kanilang kaluluwa. Pero para sa aming mga natira, ang tunay na kalayaan ay makakamit lamang kapag nakamit na ang hustisya para sa New Bataan 5,” said Jonas Abadilla, UP Diliman University Student Council chairperson, in a press statement.

(It is said that 40 days after their deaths, their souls will be liberated. But for the rest of us, true freedom can only be achieved when justice is achieved for New Bataan 5.)

A time capsule was also planted containing messages from Bakwit School students.

The Philippine Army has denied allegations that there was no encounter between government troops and rebels, including the five individuals who died in New Bataan. The military officials have claimed that Booc and company were New People’s Army rebels.

Booc was one of the seven individuals arrested by the Police Regional Office-Central Visayas in Cebu City on Feb. 15, 2021, after being involved in bringing indigenous peoples children from Davao del Norte to Cebu City.

The group, known as “Bakwit School 7,” was later released from detention after the court dismissed the kidnapping charges against them. (KAL)