Joseph Peter Calleja, Manila
Updated: February 16, 2021 09:16 AM GMT
Youths in Cebu province stage a protest calling for the Philippine Supreme Court to rule against a new anti-terrorism law. (Photo supplied)
Rights and church groups in the Philippines have condemned a police raid on a Catholic university during which 25 teachers and young students were taken into custody.
Police say the raid at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City on Feb. 15 was a “rescue operation” to save students undergoing training as “future terrorists.”
According to reports, those detained included seven adults and 19 minors.
The raid took place at a retreat house on the university’s campus that indigenous people known as Lumads had turned into an educational center.
The Lumads are often accused by the government of being members of the outlawed Communist Party, whose armed wing has led a decades-old insurgency.
Police said they received reports that students were being held captive and indoctrinated for terrorist purposes.
“These students detained ... were being housed in the Catholic school’s grounds to undergo revolutionary training as future armed combatants,” police said.
The Society of the Divine Word (SVD) congregation that runs the university hit back by saying the teachers and students were part of a Catholic Church education program.
“They were at the SVD-owned retreat house … to complete their modular schooling on April 3, 2020, after which they would have returned to their respective indigenous communities,” the congregation said in a statement.
They were staying on campus due to pandemic restrictions in the province, the statement added.
“It came as a surprise that reports about minors being rescued surfaced. No rescue was needed as the children were there for their welfare and well-being,” the statement said.
Human rights groups said the raid was an example of how state forces were implementing a controversial anti-terror law giving authorities greater powers of arrest and detention that came into force last year.
“This recent assault is another in a long line of grave harassment and intensified operations that indigenous people have suffered under the Duterte administration," the left-wing Akbayan party told reporters.
Footage of the raid posted by the Save Our Schools Network showed some of the detained children screaming as police took them away.
Churchgoers accused Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte of wanting to criminalize church efforts to alleviate poverty.
“They made it appear as if the Church was not taking care of these people all along. They criminalize the helping of indigenous people. This is why the anti-terror law is terrorism itself,” said Jenny Linares in a social media post.
….as we enter the last months of 2021, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.