Screen grab from Benjie Talisik’s Facebook Live.

The Police Regional Office (PRO) in Central Visayas took out at least 19 indigent minors from Mindanao who were allegedly recruited by militant groups and housed inside a Catholic university in Talamban, Cebu City.

Police Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo, PRO Central Visayas director, said the operations were conducted after six parents and the provincial government of Davao del Norte sought help for the minors’ “rescue.”

“Their children were taken by the members of the Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanugon (Community Learning Center Inc.) without their knowledge and consent,” said Montejo.

The children have been separated from their parents since 2020, he said.

“They are victims of indoctrination and recruitment by the community terrorist group and exploitation of the Salugpongan as they were used during protest rallies against the government,” the official said.

The rescue was a joint operation by PRO-7 Women’s and Protection Desk, the Municipal Government of Talaingod, the Provincial Government of Davao del Norte, and Cebu City Social Welfare Office. They entered the University of San Carlos Talamban campus shortly before noon, Monday, Feb. 15.

Authorities located the minors at the university’s retreat house.

A brief scuffle ensued between the police and a few of the minors’ supposed guardians, who were cuffed by police.

Datu Benito Bayaw, one of those cuffed by police, told reporters they went to Cebu as part of the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network.

“We won’t be here (Cebu City) if our (Indigenous) school were not attacked and closed,” Bayaw said in Bisaya.

When asked if they participated in rallies since their arrival, Bayaw said “it is not against the law to show our right at the streets.”

The Society of the Divine Word (SVD) Philippines Southern Province and the University of San Carlos, in a joint statement, said the students’ housing was part of the Archdiocese of Cebu Commission on Social Advocacies “bakwit school project” with the Save Our Schools Network.

The statement said 42 students were also accompanied by five teachers and three community elders (datu). “Four other educational institutions in Cebu hosted the same (program),” it added.

The students were billeted near the USC-Talamban Campus since they were doing their modular schoolwork.

“The delegation was supposed to complete their modular schooling on April 3, 2020 after which they would have returned to their respective indigenous communities,” it furthered.

However, Cebu City was placed under strict quarantine restriction starting March 13, 2020, extending their stay.

After quarantine restrictions were loosened, the delegation was scheduled to be sent home in batches due to logistical and financial limitations. They sent at least four minors home, and another set was scheduled to return this week.

The SVD fathers and USC said they were “surprised” about the minors “being rescued” in the “presence of policemen.”

The SVD and USC statement was later adopted by the Archdiocese of Cebu.

Montejo said police were preparing charges for kidnapping, serious illegal detention, violation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, among others.

The Cebu City government has promised to assist in the minors’ return in a week. Ryan Christopher J. Sorote