CRC Executive Director Ma. Esmeralda Macaspac said the Philippine government uses the broad definition of ‘child soldiers’ in the Paris Principles to evade prosecution for violating children’s rights. Worse, she said, “Communities and people’s organizations branded as guerilla fronts by a paranoid regime become vulnerable to attacks and children are bound to be branded as ‘children associated with armed groups’ by virtue of being residents of these communities or children of members of such organizations.”
BY RONALYN OLEA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
At the height of military offensives in Mindanao, a military officer claimed that the four children who were killed in the Sept. 8, 2008 bombing incident in Datu Piang, Maguindanao were ‘child soldiers.’
Col. Marlou Salazar of the 601st Brigade and Maj. Gen. Hernanie Perez of Philippine Air Force 3rd Air Division said the six persons including four children aged two to ten years old who were killed after an OV-10 aircraft of the Philippine Air Force bombed the civilians evacuating from their community were all rebels.
On March 13, 2002, Grecil Buya, a nine-year-old gir,l was killed by soldiers in Compostella Valley. Davao Today reported that General Carlos Holganza, the commander of the Philippine Army’s 101st Brigade whose men killed Grecil, said there were indications that the girl was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). The girl’s mother and the barangay (village) captain refuted the military’s claim.
On February 10, 2006, eleven backpackers, including two minors, were accused by the police as members of the NPA responsible for the raid on a military detachment in Mankayan town, Benguet. Ten months later, the Benguet Regional Trial Court dismissed the homicide and arson cases against the youth backpackers for lack of evidence.
CRC Executive Director Ma. Esmeralda Macaspac cited these cases at a forum in Quezon City last week. She said the Philippine government uses the broad definition of ‘child soldiers’ in the Paris Principles to evade prosecution for violating children’s rights.
In 2006, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Paris Principle on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups. It states that any person below18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes are considered ‘child soldiers.’ It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.
The CRC said that the definition of “children associated with armed groups” includes all children in communities where armed groups, like the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), operate or have influence.
Macaspac said further, “Communities and people’s organizations branded as guerilla fronts by a paranoid regime become vulnerable to attacks and children are bound to be branded as ‘children associated with armed groups’ by virtue of being residents of these communities or children of members of such organizations.”
By simply stating that the children they arrest, detain, maim and/or kill are ‘children associated with armed groups’, the state armed forces are already provided with an excuse to escape prosecution, said Macaspac.
Althea Peñalosa, CRC information officer, said that according to the Paris Principles, violations to children’s rights include: 1) killing/maiming; 2) abduction;3) recruitment and use of child soldiers; 4) rape/sexual assault; 5) attack on school and hospital facilities; and, 6) denial of humanitarian aid.