Manila: A global federation of teachers assailed a recent Philippine government move to arrest activists who took part in a “solidarity” mission in Davao del Norte.
David Edwards, Secretary General of the Education International (EI) said the recent arrest of 74 people taking part in the activity was uncalled for as it asked the government to immediately release those who were arrested last Thursday and drop all charges against these people.
“Respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples and other minorities in the Philippines, and stop the harassment and criminalisation against indigenous leaders, teachers and human rights defenders,” Edwards said.
Reports reaching Manila said among those who took part in the solidarity mission and were arrested were Representative France Castro of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), former party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo of the left-wing Bayan Muna, 12 teachers and 29 students of Lumad (indigenous peoples) schools, four pastors as well as an administrator of the Salugpungan community learning centre.
On Friday, charges of child abuse and human trafficking were brought up against Castro, Ocampo and all the others. They allegedly held 14 minors without the consent of their parents and permit from the Municipal Social Welfare Office.
In a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte, Edwards explains that based on the statement provided to them by the ACT, an EI affiliate, the solidarity mission convoy was “attacked the paramilitary group “Alamara,” while it was stopped at a check point on Wednesday evening.
Members of the Alamara are also from the Lumad.
Reacting to the arrests, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo on Saturday said the government did nothing illegal when filed charges against those who took part in the solidarity mission.
“The rule of law must always prevail in a democracy. There is no room for short cuts that impair the legal processes. Let the constitutional processes proceed without fear nor favour,” Panelo said in a press statement.
“Ocampo, together with all the accused, have been given 10 days to file their respective counter affidavits to refute the allegations against them. Hence, due process is being accorded them,” Panelo said while asking also asked Satur the left-wing leader refrain from engaging in a ‘propaganda war, against the government.
Ocampo was a former spokesman for the communist National Democratic Front.
Authorities had earlier accused left-wing groups of taking advantage of indigenous peoples’ by recruiting them into the communist New Peoples’ Army (NPA) and providing them with arms to fight the government.
The government had been fighting the NPA and its ideological backbone, the Communist Party of the Philippines for nearly 50 years.