Court dismisses charge vs elderly Lumad school teacher

The Nabunturan (Compostela Valley) Regional Trial Court dismissed a murder charge against elderly and ailing Lumad school teacher Amelia Pond, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network announced Monday.

“In the course of the outrage over the state of repression on International Human Rights Day, there is one cause for celebration—the dismissal of trumped up charges against Lumad school teacher Amelia B. Pond,” SOS in a statement said.

Pond, 65 years old and curriculum researcher for Salugpongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanogon Learning Center (STTICLC), was detained for 15 months on a murder charge before her release last December 7.

SOS said the court’s dismissal of Pond’s case proved the charge as false after prosecution witnesses  recanted their allegations.

The group, however, lamented the hardships the ailing teacher underwent for 15 months.

“Although we celebrate the dismissal of the trumped-up case, this vindication does not diminish the anguish Pond went through,” SOS said.

‘Without humanitarian consideration’

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police arrested Pond last August 2016 while she was attending a Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) assembly in Cebu.

CIDG operatives used an alias warrant under the name of Adelfa Toledo, an alleged NPA leader wanted for murder, to justify Pond’s arrest.

In detention, Pond was placed in hospital arrest when she underwent surgery on her spine last November 11, 2016.

She was also diagnosed to be suffering from chronic renal infection, osteoporosis, and hyperlipidemia or abnormally high concentration of fats or lipids in the blood.

When Duterte terminated his unilateral ceasefire declaration with the NPA last February 4, however, Pond was transported back to Tagum jail against doctor’s orders and “without humanitarian consideration for her delicate state of recuperation,” SOS said.

Sr. Francis Añover of the RMP said Pond suffered during the transfer from Davao City to Tagum jail, repeatedly crying out in pain and asking the driver to slow down and stop for rest.

At the jail facility, Pond was taken back to her old cell beside the toilet, the nun said.

“She cannot bend due to her lumbar problem while the other prisoners sleep on the floor with only cardboards and mats,” Añover said.

Pond at her release from the Compostela Valley Province Provincial Jail last December 7. (SOS photo)

Escalation of attacks

SOS said that while Pond’s troubles may have ended,  the military’s attacks on schools and teachers have continued and escalated.

“Lumad schools are vilified through red-baiting while teachers and students are harassed and attacked,” SOS said.

The group added that the impending martial law extension in Mindanao as well as President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats against Lumad schools “suggests that state terrorism will continue to attack and endanger Lumad schools and their advocates.”

Human rights group Karapatan also hailed the dismissal of the murder charge against Pond even as it lamented that “trumped-up charges against the likes of Pond who works for Lumad schools is never new.”

“Almost always, the perpetrators of illegal arrests and detention go scot free,” Karapatan legal counsel Ma. Sol Taule told Kodao.

“Many Lumad school teachers were also charged with fabricated criminal cases in an attempt to shut down Lumad schools that were previously branded and tagged by the Duterte government as NPA schools,” the lawyer added.

Taule said Karapatan expects more illegal arrests and trumped up cases after Duterte announced his plan to extend martial rule in Mindanao for another year. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)