The children of political activists and human rights workers who have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings are orphaned, their young lives marred and damaged by the experience of losing their parents to state violence. As for the child victims of extrajudicial killings themselves, their brutal killing at the hands of the military prove the extent of the AFP’s impunity—not even the most innocent are spared.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
A decade ago, novelist and comic book writer Neil Gaiman and a few others wrote and published under DC Vertigo an illustrated novel called “The Children’s Crusade.”
In a nutshell, it is about a group of children each of whom lived in a different country and a different time and who died or were killed in the most cruel of ways either through neglect or through abuse. They disappear all the children in the world living in the present time because, as they said, all children should be saved and rescued because adults and how they run the world inflict so much pain and damage on the innocent.
“They kill children here,” they said, justifying their action. One by one, they took thousands and thousands of children from this world and brought them to another place where they could play and laugh forever.
The book sends a timely message, one that would never be irrelevant given the current human rights situation in the world and in the Philippines. All the hurt in the world is felt a millions times worse by children who, in their innocence and helplessness, could do nothing to defend themselves or to escape the circumstances of despair, sadness and death that surround so many of them.
The Issue of Child Soldiers.
If one has to write about the issue of child soldiers, good journalists and political analysts regardless of their own personal political biases should be aware that since 1988, ahead of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA have already adopted and implemented the policy of prohibiting the recruitment of children below 18 to serve as combatants. They should be aware of this the same way that they know about the various laws and declarations of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) regarding the rights of the child and how they must be protected and upheld.
It would also be most instructive to take into consideration the explanations the leadership of the CPP and the NPA have made that children between the ages of 15 and 18 may be trained and directed by the mass organizations never for the purpose of participation in combat, but to enable them to keep themselves safe when their homes and communities are attacked by soldiers.
These children who are given instruction on quick evacuation and first-aid cannot be in any definition be considered combatants: they do not carry firearms, and they are not members of the NPA.
The government under the previous administration of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was consistent it its accusations that the NPA is guilty of child recruitment. As for the new government under President Benigno Aquino III, it has yet to issue any statement on the matter even as it began its peace negotiations with the NDFP on February 15 this year. All the same, however, already, human rights groups have documented 37 cases of extrajudicial killings of activists under the Aquino government. This translates to one victim of extrajudicial killing per week. Human rights watchdogs say that the new Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) of the AFP called “Oplan Bayanihan” is no different from the Oplan Bantay Laya implemented during the Arroyo regime, which killed 1,206 in nine years.
The issue of child soldiers is something that children’s rights advocacy groups and the rest of the human rights community have become passionate about because , as they assert, the government and its armed forces actually tag innocent children — the children of farmers and indigenous peoples — as combatants so it could justify itself when the AFP ends up killing children civilians. Also, they assert that this labeling is part and parcel of the over-all campaign to demonize the NPA and distract the public from what is really happening: the government slowly, systematically, and on a mass scale, killing children not just by having the AFP riddle their small bodies with bullets, but by starving them, denying them health, housing and education services.
Child Soldiers or Victims?
In late 2006, the representatives of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the GRP panel, the GRP Monitoring Committee, the Philippine National Police/Task Force Usig; the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) formed a technical working group (TWG) “to clean up the different lists of incidents/cases of alleged political killings submitted by different groups for possible similarities, discrepancies, double count or inaccuracies.”
The TWG came out with a report “to assist the Government in reading the “temperature” and address the situation on the ground, and provide inputs for an intelligible response to the local and international public regarding allegations against the State.” The compilation of the report entailed analyzing and deconstructing the complaints human rights organizations filed with the Joint Monitoring Committee against the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), as well as the comprehensive list of the said HR groups of extrajudicial killings and abductions they charge to GRP forces.
Included in the TWG’s report on the extrajudicial killings are 10 cases of political killings involving 12 children and minors as victims, all of which have been filed against the GRP: the Blanco children John Kevin (3), Dexter Blanco (1 and ½), and the then unborn baby (eight months), killed July 21, 2005; Mary Jane Jimelo (9), killed May 8, 2001; Nina Angela Apolinar (9), killed May 20, 2002; Berni Ani (15), Mylene (11), and Raymond (4) Golloso, killed July 23, 2003; Joey Santos (15), killed January 29, 2004; Aldassir Padiwan (10), killed January 2, 2005; Dante Salgado (17), killed January 31, 2006; Amante Abelon Jr. (5), killed March 20, 2006; and Wilmer Masimid (3), killed April 25, 2003.
The TWG made the recommendation that the deaths of the children should be investigated so it can be determined “if the children died in crossfire during military/police operations, massacres, direct assaults/killings, or were child combatants who participated in an encounter.” The fact that the TWG even dared to imply that the children were possible combatants and hence legitimate targets of GRP forces exposes an inherently malicious political agenda: that of deflecting blame that is rightfully directed against the GRP.
The TWG, however, failed to accomplish this. Closer scrutiny of the cases reveal common circumstances that all contribute to establish the accountability of the GRP’s armed forces and to reveal a comprehensive campaign directed against political activists, sympathizers, and members and officials of progressive party-list groups. The TWG also failed in its attempt to justify the killings as the result of military encounters; or to clear the military from accountability.
The process the TWG utilized to select the 10 specific cases of political killings of children and minors is not immediately apparent, but it appears that the cases were chosen randomly. At closer analysis of the report, however, it becomes obvious that the TWG had no intention of shedding light into the cases but instead do the opposite: obfuscate the truth and lay the ground for conclusions that are unfounded, unjustified, and malicious.
Concretely, the TWG made the barest and most inaccurate mention of the circumstances that led to the death of the children. It based its observations and conclusions on the complaints against the GRP, but deliberately or not, the TWG still managed to commit certain inaccuracies in its report on the one hand (such as mistakes in the ages of the children victims); and neglecting to report that besides the children who were killed, the cases also involved other children and minors who survived (such as the cases involving Bernie; the Golloso children; Aldassir and Dante).
For instance, the TWG stated that three-year old Amante Jr. “died with his family when some armed men fired at them in Castillejos, Zambales.” The fact that Amante Jr was shot once in the head and died helpless in the embrace of his mother who was also shot once in the head was not mentioned. The alleged intelligence agents shot and killed Amante Jr. when they failed in their main objective to kill the father – they vented their frustration on the little boy.
The eight-year old Nina, according to the TWG, “died with her family in a mass killing.” The TWG did not use the more apt term “massacre” nor did it describe the brutality of the attack that killed Nina and her family. The perpetrators fired at least 53 M-16 bullets (based on the shells found surrounding the house).
Neither did the TWG include the detail that 10-year old Aldassir was shot in the torso, and when he died while in the custody of his and his parents’ killers, the soldiers threw his body out of the moving truck like a bag of garbage. Aldassir’s younger brother, eight-year old Almujayyal whom the soldiers also took with them even heard one of the soldiers declare his brother dead “Nagdaran pa in truck kiyaruk siya sin sundalu daing ha truck, miyatay na kunu.”
While the TWG reported that nine-year old Mary Jane was raped and killed, it did not mention that the little girl was found stuffed in a sack and that her small body bore marks of strangulation and possible drowning.
In the meantime, the TWG did not give the least consideration for the testimonies of witnesses in the killings. It disregarded the written and signed accounts of the witnesses including the parents of the children killed wherein they directly attributed the deaths to the military, citing specific names and battalion units.
In the case of the Golloso children, the leadership of the village where the fatal shooting took place submitted an affidavit belying the assertion of the 2nd IBPA and CAFGU unit under the command of Col. Romeo Cabatic that the children were killed in an encounter between the soldiers and some other armed group. Eleven village officials and 42 residents signed the affidavit.