The Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) had documented six cases of frustrated killings, four victims of torture, two illegal arrest and detention, two victims of rape and 136 children affected by forcible evacuation during Aquino’s first five months in office. In all these cases witnesses tagged state military forces as the perpetrators.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Theirs looked like the usual rally in Mendiola except that majority of the participants were children aged nine to 17. A few five-year-olds brought along by adult guardians and child rights advocates were also there. In what was billed as Children’s Solidarity Action, some 150 children staged a rally at the Mendiola Peace Arch last Sunday. Its emcees and speakers were children; only three guest speakers were adults from the Gabriela Women’s Alliance, Salinlahi or Alliance for Children’s Concerns, and the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC).
The Children’s Solidarity Action is a Salinlahi tradition started in 1995, said Liberty Dipon, president of the group’s Council of Leaders.
(Photo by Angie de Lara / bulatlat.com)
Unlike the usual rallies, the protesters’ placards also consisted of more colourful tapestries and artworks, which the children said they themselves have made. Are these children merely being used by adults for their own ends? Organizers from Salinlahi explained that the messages being said in the rally, the skits being presented by the children, and the demands being aired by child speakers in the program came from the children themselves. They have held a year-long activity including workshops and discussions in different urban areas in Metro Manila. In other regions outside of Metro Manila, other workshops were held directly involving children who were orphaned as a result of extra-judicial killings, or who had witnessed it.
The children- ralliers came from Tondo and Tatalon in Manila, Batasan in Quezon City and from the province of Batangas. Some are children of the still detained Morong 43 health workers. Some are children of victims of extra-judicial killings or enforced disappearances; some are children victims or witnesses themselves to state-sponsored violence, such as demolitions of their homes and forced recruitment for CAFGU (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit). And some are children who said they just feel for their fellow children.
“What happens to our fellow children also hurts us.”(Photo by Angie de Lara / bulatlat.com)
Clarissa Nocido, 15, has been a member of Salinlahi for barely a year. She said that she feels for every story her fellow children share in their workshop-discussion. She cited as example the story of Ading, who had told them of how their entire family were driven out of their hometown by relentless military harassment. “It hurts us, too. We also feel it,” said Nocido.
(Photo by Angie de Lara / bulatlat.com)
Some children appeared nervous and were quick to laugh at themselves during the two-hour program, where they took turns telling stories about how Filipino children are “still deprived of their basic rights to survival and development.” Some were taciturn while others readily answered questions such as why they joined the rally.
Gerald Andres, 11, from an elementary school in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, stepped out from among his giggling, shy friends to tell Bulatlat that he joined the rally because like the other kids with him, “I, too, want to fight for our rights.”
Like adult ralliers, the children chanted various calls. They demanded “Decent Housing, Not Violence,” “Put an End to Militarization in the Countryside,” “Jobs for Mom and Dad, Not Violence,” among others.
No Change Under President Aquino
“Under Aquino, a lot of people remain poor and many children still can’t go to school. Many children are still being forced to work instead of going to school or playing. Many still get accused of being child soldiers,” Kai Ra Cabarong, 13, said in a speech before the children ralliers.
Children ralliers for change.(Photo by Angie de Lara / bulatlat.com)
A first year high school student from PUP, Cabarong denounced the budget cuts on state colleges and universities and the “so-called solutions such as the K+12, which is not a solution at all.” Given the low quality of education, Cabarong said the proposed additional years of required education will only make it more costly for parents to send their children to school.
“This year, even with the advent of Noynoy Aquino’s presidency, the plight of Filipino children continues. We find him guilty of having neglected Filipino children by having no clear agenda pertaining to their welfare,” said Dipon.
In fact, Aquino “shows no difference from his predecessor when it comes to the record of grave child rights violations that happened under his watch,” Dipon said.
The Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), a Salinlahi member-organization, had documented six cases of frustrated killings, four victims of torture, two illegal arrest and detention, two victims of rape and 136 children affected by forcible evacuation during Aquino’s first five months in office. In all these cases, witnesses tagged state military forces as the perpetrators.
“We have also received reports of minors being recruited to join the CAFGU either by means of force or by joining ‘young adult organizations’ such as the YMCA, said Dipon.
Sixteen-year-old “Kuya Ading” to the ralliers was one of those who directly witnessed the military’s forcible recruitment to the CAFGU. His brother Noel, another minor, had been beaten up by the military for having refused to join the CAFGU. “Kuya Ading” himself has been repeatedly threatened by the military. He told Bulatlat.com that they have seen for themselves that the military is arming minors whom they had successfully forced to join the CAFGU. In military camps, Ading said, the soldiers treat these minors “like slaves,” making them cook or do errands. If they refused to join, Kuya Ading said, the military would shout at them and tell them that, “You must be a member of the CPP-NPA.”
Ading also criticized soldiers for their habit of “courting female minors in our community.” A similar complaint has been aired against the military in other provinces.
Don’t Let It Happen Again
Losing a parent to EJK is a personality-changing tragedy. (Photo Courtesy of CTUHR / bulatlat.com)
“For every victim of extrajudicial killing, there may be children who lose a parent. For every victim of enforced disappearance, there are children who will grow up in uncertainty and longing for a loved one to finally come home some day,” the national women’s alliance Gabriela said in a statement at the Children’s Solidarity Action.
In the island of Negros, one of the priority areas in the government’s counter-insurgency operations, groups of child rights advocates have found out through workshops with children survivors of killings that “it is clear to children here who their enemies are.” That it is the military who is killing their loved ones and driving them out of their homes and causing their hunger.