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PARENTS TAKE CUSTODY OF 12 MINORS IN TALAINGOD INCIDENT



Parents and the 12 minors hold each other as they leave the Hall of Justice after a court hearing on Wednesday in Davao City. (PNA photo by Lilian C Mellejor)

DAVAO CITY -- The parents of the 12 minors who were in the company of Bayan Muna president Satur Ocampo in the Davao del Norte town of Talaingod have taken custody of their children following a court order.

Amid tensions during the three-hour hearing on habeas corpus for the minors on Wednesday, the parents and children hugged and held each other inside the sala of Judge Glenn Aquino, who ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to release the children.

In an interview outside the courtroom, Coray Ebodan, a village leader in Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, said the parents and their children wanted to go straight to their hometown and not anywhere else.

Ebodan said he was worried the parents and the children might be taken to UCCP Haran, where some of the members of the Ata-Manobo tribes have stayed since 2016.

Children's interest

In his three-page order, Judge Aquino said the court considered the children's welfare in granting the petition for the release of the 12 students of the Salugpungan Community Learning Center (SCLC) from the custody of the DSWD and return to the care of their respective parents or guardians.

Aquino said that during the hearing, the respondents – DSWD 11 (Davao Region) Director Mercedita Habagat and other personnel -- readily complied with the order and presented the minors.

He also took note that DSWD was merely acting in accordance with its mandate under Section 28 of Republic Act No. 7610 to take protective custody of the minors.

He further noted of DSWD’s declaration that the minors -- all females -- were referred to the DSWD Home for Girls and Women by Talaingod’s Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office so that a “parenting assessment” may be conducted.

However, Aquino said the Court “finds that respondents have no authority of lawful basis to retain the children in its custody, let alone, to deprive the petitioners, who are the parents or lawful guardians of such children, of their custody and care.”

It may be recalled that the 12 minors were in the company of Ocampo, Act Teachers Rep. France Castro, and 16 others when they were held for questioning by the police authorities in Talaingod on the night of November 28.

Ocampo and his group were later charged with kidnapping and human trafficking charges.

Aftercare

DSWD-11 Director Habagat said the agency's social workers will continue to connect with the minors for aftercare sessions in the community.

She said some of the parents are also beneficiaries of the 4Ps program of the government. Prior to the minors’ release, the DSWD has conducted psycho-social sessions since Saturday but was cut short following the release order. (Lilian C Mellejor/PNA)

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