49 indigenous Tagbanua minors from Palawan town rescued by DSWD in religious sect in Cavite

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Sept. 20 (PNA) — Social welfare authorities and representatives of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) recently rescued 49 minors belonging to Tagbanua indigenous communities in Coron in the Calamianes Islands Group from a religious sect in Cavite.

Lawyer Josie Agusti, regional legal officer of the NCIP told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) over the weekend that many of the Tagbanua minors were from the municipality of Coron.

They were rescued by a joint team of the NCIP and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-MIMAROPA on September 17 in Barangay Buenavista, General Trias, Cavite from the alleged Bride of Jesus religious sect based in the area.

Between the ages of 13-18, the Tagbanua minors were said to have been brought to Cavite from barangays Malawig, Tara, and Buenavista in Coron last June without the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) that are strictly required.

Agusti said in June, the Bride of Jesus allegedly went to their extension office in Coron to request to bring the Tagbanua minors to Cavite for free education it is offering to indigenous youths.

But the NCIP required the Bride of Jesus to obtain the FPIC. The representatives of the religious sect did not go back to show compliance.

They were surprised when they learned the Tagbanua minors had left Coron via a vessel that regularly travels there.

Agusti said the religious sect probably managed to convince the parents of the indigenous minors because of poverty, and the need to send their children to school.

On September 4, the NCIP extension office in Coron received complaints from the parents of the Tagbanua minors allegedly because some of them were not being fed enough, have suffered from ailments, and seemed to be detainees by the Bride of Jesus.

Agusti said these complaints were the reason why they launched a rescue mission on September 17. Initially, the Bride of Jesus allegedly refused to give the minors to their joint team.

“The Tagbanua minors that the Bride of Jesus brought with them to Cavite called their parents to complain that they’re having difficulties because they are not being fed properly, they’re getting sick, and losing weight, so, our officer in Coron coordinated with the DSWD to rescue them,” Agusti said.

Agusti added that the Bride of Jesus may be sued for human trafficking for bringing the Tagbanua minors to Cavite without the authority of the NCIP.

“So far, what we’re considering is human trafficking because of bringing the Tagbanua minors illegally,” said Agusti.

She also stated that the Bride of Jesus is not registered, or does not have any permit, to run and maintain a youth shelter in Cavite. What it has is only a registration from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a religious group.

“They have no permit to offer shelter to minors, as well as maintain this shelter. What they have is only SEC registration that they are a religious group,” she added.

When the Tagbanua youths were interviewed by the DSWD-MIMAROPA, social services representatives discovered that they were allegedly being fed stale food; made to wake up at two in the morning to cook and take their baths.

Although 18 of the total number were enrolled to take up vocational courses at the Cavite State University, their travel were not authorized, and the condition they were subjected to was questionable.(PNA)