Child Soldiers or Victims?

Fifteen-year old Aeta boy Joey was accused of being a member of “a rebel group” and killed by the 69th IBPA led by Col. Herbert Yambing. This information the TWG included but not the fact that Joey’s own employer submitted a signed affidavit stating that the boy tended carabaos and sold tomatoes for him and that on the day Joey was killed, he had asked permission to go and play basketball with other Aeta children in a nearby community.

The TWG also did not cite the fact that the families of the victims and the human rights groups who helped them file complaints went not only to the JMC but also to the Commission on Human Rights and the courts.

It is also noticeable how the TWG attempted to clear the AFP from criminal liability for the killings by insinuating, in certain cases, that the children were either combatants or were in the custody or company of rebel groups to justify their killing.

Seventeen-year old Dante was resting with other bamboo cutters inside a house when they were startled awake at 4:00 am by a loud burst of gunfire. Soon after, at 7:00 am, Dante and his cousin Alan, 18, left to buy food for their breakfast. Then there was another round of gunfire which sent the workers running for cover. At 12:00 noon, four soldiers came and ordered those in the house to come out. The soldiers asked if any of their companions were missing and when they answered in the affirmative, they produced Allan. The soldiers left taking the boy with them. The next day both Allan and Dante were found by their relatives in a funeral parlor. Witnesses say the two boys were last seen alive while under the custody of elements of the 71st IBPA, but that the soldiers charged the two boys of being with the rebels.

Three-year old Wilmer was playing inside the house of his paternal grandmother when soldiers came and shot him. They also shot his father William who was resting in an upstairs room. William was accused of being a member of the NPA.

In summary, there are more important points that expose the 10 cases of political killings of minors and children as directly perpetrated by the military or paramilitary units such as the CAFGU, or, at least, as a consequence of the GRP’s military campaign against political activists.

First, the children in the 10 cases of political killings of children and minors were killed either in their own homes, their area of employment, or in the presence or company of their own parents.

Second, they were killed while in the middle of activities that could hardly be categorized as actively hostile or military in character; for instance, Aldassir was sleeping, and so were Bernie and Nina; Joey was heading off to play basketball; Dante was buying food; Amante Jr was riding a motorcycle sandwiched between his mother and father, and the Blanco children were preparing to leave with their parents to go to the clinic because their mother was scheduled to give birth.

Third, all the witnesses and direct eye-witnesses point to the military, paramilitary or intelligence agents as perpetrators who carried out the killings with complete impunity.

Fourth, the victims either had parents who were activists – Nina’s father and mother were affiliated with Bayan Muna and Gabriela respectively; Amante’s father Amante Sr. was with Anakpawis and vice-president of the Alyansa ng Magsasaka sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) – in the military’s Order of Battle – Wilmer’s father William was in the OB; Bernie’s father Ernesto was a barangay chairman who was accused of being an NPA sympathizer – or the victims themselves were ordinary civilians accused of being NPA members, as in the cases of Joey and Dante.

Fifth, the killings were conducted in varying hours of the day, regardless of whether there were witnesses or that the killings were conducted in public. All these denote impunity.

All in all, the brutal execution of these children are all-too consistent with the GPH ’s counterinsurgency programs – under Arroyo, it was called Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch) — which the TWG report makes no mention of. The GRP and its agencies deliberately hype the distorted concept of “child soldiers” and accuse the children it victimized and whose lives it destroyed of being armed and therefore legitimate targets as a malicious means to divert the attention from the true violators of children’s and human rights: the GRP and its armed forces. This twisted accusation that there are “child soldiers” in the Philippines all the more exposes children to violence and renders them vulnerable to the most vicious of human rights violations.

The cases of extrajudicial killings of children filed against the GPH and included in the TWG report make up only a part of the hundreds of cases of children victims of human rights violations since ex-president Arroyo came into power in 2001. As of 2007, there were 54 cases (49 of which are well-documented) of children killed by the military during operations. Five years later, no justice has been given to these children and their families.

Continuing Violations Against Children’s Rights Under Aquino

The last decade under Macapagal-Arroyo saw a a steep rise in the number of cases of children victimized by the government’s military operations. The government asserts that it upholds human rights, but the facts speak for themselves and are in sharp contradiction to this.

In the meantime, post–2006, more human rights violations against children have taken place. The following cases have been documented by human rights groups from various regions. Some of these have also been reported by the AFP itself and its media dispatches. These, some would say, are clear indications of what can be expected from the Aquino government when it comes to human rights.

In September 14 last year, “Rose” (not her real name), 17, was paraded before the media by the 84th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. The 84th IB-PA falsely claimed that she was a “would-be recruit” of the NPA who escaped.

In July 2010, “Boy” (not his real name), 17, of Brgy. Tagaytay, Magsaysay, Davao del Sur was reportedly forced to join a special operation of the 39th IB-PA last July to penetrate an NPA camp and steal weapons.

Also sometime last year, “Jerry” (not his real name), 17, of Brgy. Malawanit, Magsaysay, Davao del Sur was reportedly abducted and tortured to force him to admit to being an “NPA child warrior.” Jerry was able to escape and reveal his ordeal to the public.

Another minor, “Donna” (not her real name) of Dungan Pekong, Matanao, Davao del Sur, was misrepresented before the media as an “NPA child warrior.”

He was not yet 16 when “Jomar” (not his real name) and his friends were recruited and made to undergo a 45-day military training in October 2008 by the 1001st Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, in its headquarters in Brgy. Tuburan, Mawab, Compostela Valley. He was formally admitted as a member of the paramilitary Citizens Armed Geographical Unit in December 2008. As a CAFGU element, Jomar was accosted by the NPA last June 2010, but the NPA immediately released him after his age ws revealed.

In March 2010, a 17-year old boy from Brgy. Old Bulatucan, Makilala, North Cotabato was accosted and tortured by elements of the 57th IB-PA last March following an NPA harassment operation against the soldiers. He was presented to the media as a “child warrior” of the NPA before being turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Seventeen-year old “Michelle” (not her real name), was reported by her parents to have been abducted by elements of the 34th IB-PA from her home in San Juan de Buan, Western Samar in February 2010. She was taken by government soldiers as part of their tactic to force her parents (both members of the NPA) to surrender to the AFP. Michelle continues to be detained by the DWSD under the authority of the AFP.

A mentally-challenged child from Montalban, Matuguinao, Western Samar named “Jose” (not his real name), remains in the custody of the DSWD. According to reports, elements of the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division accosted Jose in June 2009, made him handle a firearm and forced him to join military operations. He was subsequently paraded before the media as a “child warrior” of the NPA.

These recorded violations, human rights groups insist, are proof that children are not spared in the war between the government and the CPP-NPA. The children of political activists and human rights workers who 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.

Upholding children’s rights necessitates much broader participation that goes beyond monitoring and reporting of human rights abuses. There must be a determined effort to prosecute offenders. This is precisely what the government is said to have been deliberately hindering despite the establishment of supposed instrumentalities such as task forces and commissions to address the matter. Any purported “mitigating circumstances” through which the government seeks to justify infringements of children’s rights in times of armed conflict must be seen for what they are: reprehensible and intolerable.

The Philippine government is signatory to the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and insists that it upholds laws and policies which promote the best interests of Filipino children. The long list of murdered and massacred children proves just how much the GRP gives importance to children’s rights: when not killing the parent, it kills the children. The previous government under Macapagal-Arroyo absolves itself of blame for the lengthy series of human rights violations while heaping praise on the very same military officials who are being accused as perpetrators.

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