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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Velez: A positive human rights story, sort of

WE USUALLY hear the shouts of rage during rallies on International Human Rights Day protesting state repression and killings. But for once there is a celebratory news.

An elderly Lumad school teacher, Amelia Pond, was released from detention after the trumped up charge against her was dismissed last December 7.

Pond, 65 years old and curriculum researcher for the Salugpongan Community Learning Center in Talaingod and other Lumad communities in Southern Mindanao, was arrested last August 2016 on trumped up charges of murder.

The court dismissed the case as prosecution witnesses recanted their allegations against her, which "proves the falsity of charges filed against Pond," says the Save Our Schools Network supporting the Lumad schools and also her case.

While this is a triumph, the Save Our Schools noted that "this vindication does not diminish the anguish Pond went through 15 months."
The group recalls Pond was forcibly arrested when she attended an assembly of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) in Cebu. She along with Salugpongan officials and RMP delegates were surprised that the CIDG presented IDs bearing her face with a different name, one Adelfa Toledo, an NPA, which matches the charge sheet and arrest warrant.

When she was brought back to Davao for her trial, she underwent surgery in November 2016 on her spine as she was suffering from osteoporosis and also from renal infection and hyperlipidemia.

But when President Duterte terminated the ceasefire and backed off from peace talks last February 4, Pond was transported from her rehabilitation in SPMC back to Tagum City jail against doctor's orders and “without humanitarian consideration for her delicate state of recuperation."

Her travel was a painful ordeal, recalled RMP coordinator Sr. Francis Añover who accompanied her. Añover said Pond would cry out in pain and ask the driver to slow down or stop for rest. She was brought back to the same jail cell near the toilet, and she had to sleep on cardboard and mats.

The SOS said truth prevailed for Pond, but they are saddened still that the attacks on schools, teachers and children persist until now. With Duterte’s plan to extend Martial Law for another year, they fear more repression similar to Pond, and the attacks on schools will escalate.

Even now, the military has put up a food blockade on the community of Alcadev in Lianga, Surigaodel Sur. Around 38 Lumad schools of CLANS in Socsksargen were closed down this year due to militarization.

“Many Lumad school teachers were also charged with fabricated criminal cases in an attempt to shut down Lumad schools that were previously branded and tagged by the Duterte government as NPA schools,” says Karapatan lawyer Sol Taule. She also noted that officers who fabricate such charges are not being charged.

While Teacher Amelia Pond is free, there is still more to be done to protect Lumad schools and communities from the growing threat of state repression.

***

(Email me at tyvelez@gmail.com)
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