AFP counterinsurgency drive inside public schools

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

In pursuing its counterinsurgency program, dubbed “Oplan Bayanihan,” the Armed Forces of the Philippines has used schools, hospitals, clinics, and religious places in blatant violation of certain national and international laws and conventions.

From July 2010 to December 2013, the human rights alliance Karapatan said it had documented 18 cases of minors as victims of extrajudicial killing and 132,633 others — mostly children — as rights violation victims in the course of the AFP’s use of such venues for military purposes.

Many voices have been raised decrying the victimization of Filipino children in this way. Numerous organizations here and abroad have repeatedly urged the AFP and the Aquino government to pull out military personnel from communities and schools and to stop the killings and other rights violations.

But no positive government action was taken on these appeals.

In a case discussed in this column on August 13, 2011, the Blaan Literacy School and Learning Center in Upper Suyuan, Malapatan, an indigenous community in Sarangani province, was occupied by soldiers for three months.

The school’s organizers filed complaints, supported by affidavits of victims and witnesses, with the Ombudsman and the Commission on Human Rights. They charged six officers and soldiers of the Philippine Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion with harassment, threat and intimidation, and violation of RA 7610 (which provides special protection against child abuse, exploitation and discrimination).

Another case (discussed here on July 21, 2012) pertained to protest by 118 teachers and directors of literacy and non-formal schools in northeastern Mindanao against soldiers who had occupied their schools, interrogated the teachers, conducted classes, and branded their schools as “rebel schools.”

The delegates to a “Mindanao Conference in Defense of Schools under Attack,” held in Davao City, demanded the immediate pullout of AFP troops and paramilitary units from their schools and communities. Neither action nor response came.

Recently Karapatan documented other related cases, but this one is particularly interesting:

Starting July 1, 2012, Grade 6 and high school students were required to participate in AFP-conducted counterinsurgency lectures during class hours in Baguio City public schools.

The lectures were authorized through Memorandum No. 68 of the Department of Education-CAR, which allowed the 5th Civil Military Operations Battalion, 5th IDPA “to conduct a counter-insurgency campaign, a 1-hour symposium, in all public elementary and high schools in this Division…”

The memo explains: “This is to enhance pupils’/students’ consciousness about the deceptions and clandestine operations of the Communist Terrorist Movement.”

One year later, in July 2013, after a mid-term assessment of Oplan Bayanihan’s implementation, AFP Chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista set guidelines in the conduct of AFP activities inside or within the premises of schools or hospitals. (Bautista, main author of Oplan Bayanihan was named AFP chief months earlier.)

Letter Directive No. 25, authorized by Bautista, refers to the following laws and conventions:

• RA 7610 (earlier cited), which declares children as “zones of peace” and calls for monitoring and reporting on children in situations of armed conflict. It also prohibits the use of schools, hospitals and rural health units for military purposes (as command posts, barracks, detachments, supply depots, etc.);

• UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict;

• UN Security Council Resolution No. 1612 establishing monitoring and reporting mechanisms on Grave Child Rights Violations in Situations of Armed Conflict; and

• UN Security Council Resolution No. 1882, which calls for decisive state actions on abuses against children in situations of armed conflict.

Specifically, the letter-directive defines as its purpose “to prevent the occurrence of the six (6) Grave Child Rights Violations,” in compliance with UNSC Resolutions 1612 and 1882. These violations are: killing or maiming children, using them in armed conflict, rape/sexual violence, abduction, denying children humanitarian access, and attacks against schools/hospitals.

On Dec. 13, 2013, in relation to Bautista’s guidelines and invoking the same laws and conventions, Education Secretary Armin Luistro issued a memorandum “to protect the rights of children even during armed conflict.”

Memorandum No. 221 set the procedures for the approval and monitoring of AFP requests to conduct activities in public schools, including the submission of post-activity reports by school principals and reports on any violations of the AFP guidelines.

Despite the guidelines — or because these are intentionally so crafted — AFP units have continued to violate the very laws and international conventions that they are supposed to obey.

For instance, the guidelines state that “non-combat or non-traditional” activities inside schools, such as civil-military operations, “must not be in the nature that is within the context of armed conflict in order to avoid undue labeling, tagging and branding of persons/groups/organizations…”

The fact, however, is that “civil-military operations” are intrinsic to counterinsurgency.

Thus, in the CMO counterinsurgency lectures in Baguio — which have been extended to freshman orientation in colleges and universities — video presentations are used to tag progressive people’s organizations and partylist groups as CPP-NPA “front organizations,” according to Karapatan.

It’s probably because the guidelines say — in outright deception — that “the conduct of anti-insurgency information campaigns inside schools and hospitals is forbidden” ONLY “in the course of traditional activities, such as combat or intelligence operations.”

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February 1, 2014

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