Reminiscing Childhood

The joy of remembering one’s childhood is irreplaceable. But unfortunately, this is not the case for the thousands of Filipino children whose recollection of childhood is tainted with fear, trauma, and distress. Even worse, some never had the chance of building up these memories.

Human Rights Watch
Vol. VII, No. 25, July 29-Aug. 4, 2007

The joy of remembering one’s childhood is irreplaceable. There is excitement as one triumphantly hits the targeted can with his slipper, or runs freely in the streets soaking in the downpour of the rain. But unfortunately, this is not the case for the thousands of Filipino children whose recollection of childhood is tainted with fear, trauma, and distress. Even worse, some never had the chance of building up these memories.

According to the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), a non-government institution that serves child victims of state violence, there are 1.5 million children found in the streets working as street hawkers or beggars instead of playing and going to school as children their age are suppose to be doing. Only 69 out of 100 schoolchildren entering Grade 1 are bound to finish elementary. Eight out of ten are underweight. And about 14 million live below the poverty line.

With the multitude of these numbers, what the government had done was to allocate one billion pesos to intensify its all-out war against political insurgents. This budget that could have built 1,000 schools in rural areas or 2, 857 additional classrooms, sent 166,666 children to primary school, or supported 54, 795 children in one year was given instead to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP’s) counter-insurgency program. Its counter-insurgency program called Oplan Batay Laya (Operation Guard Freedom) implemented since 2002 failed to solve the armed conflict but has successfully claimed innocent lives of civilians, including children.

The case of Grecil Buya Galacio, the nine-year old girl killed in New Bataan, Compostela Valley, was the latest account of child victims of political repression. According to reports, Grecil was heading for a nearby creek to take a bath on March 31, 2007 when members of the 101st Infantry Brigade allegedly shot her at the head, killing her instantly. The military initially issued a statement claiming that Grecil was a child-soldier of the New People’s Army (NPA) and had fired an M16 rifle at them. Later, after the victim’s family denied the charges and proved it unfeasible for a child to carry a long firearm, the military retracted its claim.

Arrests and filing of trumped up charges against youth suspected of rebellion also escalated. In February of 2006, the police arrested 11 youths, including two minors, in Bugias, Benguet on mere suspicion that they were part of an NPA unit that conducted a raid in Mankayan four days earlier. The youths who were on their way to Sagada, Mountain Province were charged with robbery with homicide but were ordered by the court to be released in May, 2006 after the judge ruled that their warrantless arrest was illegal.

Within the same year, high school students Aileen and Marjorie were shot and injured in Baggao, Cagayan because the military thought they were “amazonas” (women guerillas) Fifteen year-olds Jefferson, Kennedy, and Joey were gathering coconuts in Lopez, Quezon when they were tortured and forced to admit that they were members of the NPA. While working in their farms, eleven minors were arrested in Basilan for being suspected as Abu Sayyaf members. They were detained at Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan up to now.

CRC recorded 59 cases of children and minors (including Grecil) killed at the hands of suspected AFP soldiers, or due to intensified and indiscriminate military operations. From 2001 to June of 2006, there were 215,23 child victims of human rights violations with cases of massacre, torture, enforced disappearances, unwarranted arrests, illegal detention, coercion, threat and intimidation, rape, and sexual harassment.

Fear and trauma

Not only that the children are physically affected but CRC also recounts socio-emotional and psychological effects on the victims. Based on its reports, child victims of violence suffer constant fear and apprehension. There are those who have witnessed the brutal murder of their parents and consequently developed a generalized fear of uniformed men such as military, police, or even security guards. Others undergo a prolonged trauma and are easily frightened by the loud noises of thunder, banging of doors, and firecrackers.

Forced evacuation and displacement due to military operations inflict equally negative effects to the families. The children’s education is disrupted when the schools are used as evacuation centers. Or in cases when the parents are killed, the child, who is supposedly enjoying his youth, is compelled to assume the role of breadwinner, working at an early age.

It is saddening to imagine a time when people can no longer look back to a joyous episode of their childhood. It is when the it (the seeker in the game of hide and seek) starts to cheat, peeks from his fold, and hunts for any innocent bystander instead. And with the implementation of the Human Security Act, the government promises to “secure humanity.” How? We have all these childhood stories to remember to answer that question.(

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