“They [children] are harassed, threatened, forced as guides, displaced, maimed, raped or killed and later on branded as child soldiers as an excuse of the AFP for the violations they have done.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the persistent perpetrator of child’s rights violations. This is the assertion of child’s rights group as the United Nation recently released its report on violations committed against children.
The UN released its report entitled, “Grave violations committed against children in 22 situations of concern” last June 12. The report covers violations against children that occurred in 2012. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reported that in 2012, there were 26 children who were recruited as soldiers, messengers and informants in conflict zones and dozens of other minors were slain and maimed in militant attacks and gunfights.
The report cited the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the New People’s Army, the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Philippine Army as using children in their operations. The UN also listed the said groups except the Philippine Army in a list of 29 groups that are “persistent perpetrators” of the use of children in armed conflict.
The UN reported 66 cases of killings and maiming of children, including 29 deaths and 37 cases of injured children. According to the report, the AFP was implicated in 14 cases; the MILF in four, the NPA in three and one incident attributed to the ASG. Ban meanwhile expressed concern over the use of children as guides by the armed forces during military operations and labeling of children as members of armed groups.
Violations perpetrated by members of the AFP
The Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) cited one recently-documented case in Trento, Agusan del Sur, which happened on May 7, 2012. A 16-year old boy from Trento, Agusan del Sur was injured after soldiers from the 25th and 75th Infantry Battalions dropped bombs in their community. When the boy went to the evacuation center where his family and other community members sought refuge, he was arrested by soldiers. The boy was photographed and presented to the media, branding him as member of the NPA.
The CRC expressed deep concern over the alarming cases of children victims of human rights violations. In 2012 alone, CRC has documented 12 cases of killings, 4 children used as guides in military operations, 10 children arrested, detained and tagged as members of the NPA and hundreds of children affected by the continuing attacks and encampment of the AFP in their schools.
“These human rights violations committed by state security forces against children, their families and their communities show that the Aquino government is far from being serious in protecting the safety and welfare of children, much less upholding their rights because in the cases we documented, the military, themselves, are the violators,” said Jacquiline Ruiz, executive director of the CRC.
Ruiz further cited other cases of children’s rights violations perpetrated by armed forces. She cited two cases where four boys from North Cotabato were harassed, threatened and used as guides in military operations by soldiers of the 57th Infantry Battalion. In Quezon province, a 16 year old boy was arrested by soldiers from the 74th Infantry Battalion and detained, on the basis of a fabricated case, for almost 11 months in a government institution. According to CRC, the boy was an ordinary farmer but was illegally arrested and accused of being a member of the NPA. In Negros Occidental, three boys from an Indigenous group were arrested and detained for two days along with 16 other farmers, and were branded as members of the NPA. This was done by the AFP in retaliation after an encounter with the NPA.
Ruiz said children victims bear the brunt of being directly or indirectly victimized. “They are harassed, threatened, forced as guides, displaced, maimed, raped or killed and later on branded as child soldiers as an excuse of the AFP for the violations they have done. The response of the Aquino government when these cases are being brought before them is a promise to ‘look into the allegations,’ and then declares its policy of non-employment of children in military operations. In the meantime, the lives of the children victims are being destroyed, perpetrators remain unpunished and violations of children’s rights continue,” Ruiz pointed out.
The CRC also urged the UN to look into the cases of children’s rights violations being committed by the AFP. Ruiz said they have documented and verified through fact-finding missions the AFP’s numerous violations on the rights of children.
“Is the persistence of the AFP’s children’s rights violations and its effects on hundreds of children in the country, not enough to include it in the UN’s list of shame?”
‘Expel military from schools’
The UN report also cited cases of the military’s use of schools as temporary stations in conflict areas. Ban cited confirmed cases in Tugaya town, Lanao del Sur that caused the disruption of classes for two weeks.
The CRC also documented cases of soldiers using school buildings, daycare centers and barangay halls as command posts, barracks, detachments, and supply depots. In some cases, the CRC said, the soldiers build detachments inside the school premises or a few meters away from the school such as in Sadanga, Mountain Province and Paquibato District in Davao City.
In Las Navas, Northen Samar, Ormoc City and Ilocos region, CRC documented cases of soldiers occupying day care centers, using the walls as urinal and as firewood. The occupation of schools disrupted classes because many children were frightened to see soldiers carrying firearms inside their classrooms. “These early exposure to violence and constant terror has devastating psychological effects which can affect their intellectual development– a direct attack on the children’s future,” the CRC stated in their 2012 report.
Progressive youth group Anakbayan meanwhile reiterated its demand for the government to expel the military from schools across the country. “Soldiers deliberately position themselves within civilian population centers for a two-fold purpose: to turn the civilians into a ‘human shield’ against the soldiers’ opponents, and to identify, harass, and assassinate known activists and other government critics in the area,” Vencer Crisostomo, national chairman of Anakbayan, said. He added that cases cited in the UN report are just the tip of the iceberg.
Crisostomo said public schools are also being used by the military to vilify activists. The vilification or red tagging of human rights organizations has been decried as a tool to condition public opinion against activists who are in the military’s hit list or the Order of Battle. Crisostomo cited cases in the provinces of Isabela, Benguet, and Cebu, where the military publicly accused activists of being communists and terrorists.
Crisostomo called on the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Department on Education (DepEd), and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to immediately work on keeping campuses military-free. “A school that is military-free is one that is child-friendly,” he said.
Resume peace talks
The CRC blamed the government’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan for the continuing violations on children’s rights. Ruiz said the systematic arrest, detention and tagging of children and other forms of human rights violations are part of the government’s counterinsurgency program.
“CRC has made a stand before, together with advocates of children’s rights and everyone who respects and upholds human rights that the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) or Oplan Bayanihan be scrapped. It has brought nothing but deaths, harm and trauma to children and their communities.”
The CRC also enjoins advocates of human rights, children’s rights and of peace to call for the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and for an end to the armed conflict by genuinely addressing the roots of poverty. “CRC looks for sincerity and genuineness from the Aquino government to uphold just and lasting peace for the future of Filipino children,” Ruiz said.