“The use of schools for military purposes puts children at risk of attack and hampers children’s right to education.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Schools, as well as places of worship and hospitals, are supposed to be safe havens in times of wars and armed conflict. Children are supposed to be accorded protection at all times, whether in times of peace or war. But with the recent memorandum orders issued by the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) this may no longer be the case anymore.
DepEd Memorandum No. 221 series of 2013 or the “Guidelines on the Protection of Children during Armed Conflict” issued last Dec. 13, 2013 and AFP Letter Directive No. 25 or the “Guidelines in the Conduct of AFP Activities Inside or Within the Premises of a School or a Hospital,” released by the AFP on July 15, 2013 contain guidelines for school officials and DepEd supervisors in varying levels on how to deal with requests from military units for entry in schools.
Both the DepEd Memo 221 and AFP Letter Directive 25 state that military elements can conduct “civil-military operations” such as public forums, symposiums and medical missions inside schools for as long as the activity has the approval of school authorities.
In a statement, human rights alliance Karapatan asserted that the AFP and DepEd guidelines violate domestic and international laws relating to the rights of the child, specifically Republic Act No. 7610, also known as the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, a lawyer, also said that the two memoranda “misconstrued and contravened several resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and national laws which discourage – if not prohibit – military entry in schools.”
Ridon cited the 2013 Report of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated “the use of schools for military purposes puts children at risk of attack and hampers children’s right to education.” Ban Ki Moon explained that military use of schools “not only results in reduced enrolment and high drop-out rates, especially among girls, but also may lead to schools being considered legitimate targets for attack.”
“The new issuances go against the UN secretary-general’s recommendations. Limiting military operations in schools to socio-civic activities does not change the fact that both DepEd and AFP’s guidelines violate international laws and statutes,” Ridon said.
“Even if both DepEd Memo 221 and AFP Letter Directive 25 only allow what they call as ‘civil-military operations,’ the said issuances would still be inimical to the protection of children’s rights. Allowing military presence in educational institutions is tantamount to increasing risks for children, especially those living in situations of conflict,” Ridon said.
Ridon said the two memoranda also violate Section 22 of Republic Act 7610 that declares Children as Zones of Peace and prohibits the use of public structures such as schools, hospitals and rural health units for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments and supply depots.”
The youth legislator noted several ‘dangerous provisions’ in both memos. For example, he said, Guideline No. 7 of the AFP Letter Directive 25 states, “If there is a need for the force protection unit(s)/personnel to be inside the school, due to exigencies of the prevailing security situation and/or activity and/or request, they must be deployed and limited/contained to the pre-identified/pre-approved within the school/hospital premises.”
“The said provision is unclear on who determines the presence of the ‘need for force protection units,’ which is the AFP’s euphemism for armed soldiers and is thus open for abusive interpretation,” Ridon said.
Ridon added the AFP’s letter directive also justifies and legitimizes military surveillance in schools. The Guideline No. 8 of AFP Letter Directive 25 states, “In order to clearly record the conduct of activity for purposes of documentation, units concerned must undertake photo and video coverage of the activity, hence is highly encouraged.”
“The said provision will in effect legitimize photo and video surveillance inside schools in the guise of documentation,” Ridon explained.
He also pointed out that under AFP Letter Directive 25, violations will be investigated and dealt with through a military court. “This provision is seen to further dilute its objective to secure children from rights violations and may prove as a way for uniformed personnel to get away with violations through the mantle of protection of the military court,” Ridon said.
From July 2010 to December 2013, Karapatan has documented 132,633 victims of right violations with the use of schools, medical, religious and other public places for military purposes. The group also documented 18 cases of extrajudicial killings victimizing minors.
Ridon filed House Resolution No. 725 on Jan. 28, which calls on Congress to “recommend the repeal of the aforementioned issuances and direct the DepEd to create new guidelines that will explicitly prohibit military entry in schools, pursuant to existing national and international statutes.”