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In 2005, our organization, the Children's Rehabilitation Center, participated in a research commissioned by the UNICEF to determine the situation of Filipino women and children in armed conflict. The nationwide study was done in the context of intensifying human rights violations, particularly extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, even against children.

At that time we have documented about 800 incidents of human rights violations involving 215,233 children victims from 2001 to July 2006. The cases include

  • 58 children killed,
  • 58 children survived the killings;
  • 17 children subjected to torture and humiliation;
  • 10 victims of enforced disappearances (“desaparecidos”),
  • 5 victims of sexual harassment
  • 3 victims of rape
  • 51 victims of illegal search and seizure
  • 63 victims of coercion
  • 69 children illegally arrested and/or detained
  • 40 children physically assaulted
  • 196 threatened and intimidated

Majority of the cases were victims of forced evacuation and displacement (215,060) due to the military’s counter-insurgency campaigns and 106 were orphaned or witnessed the killings of their loved ones.

The study also delved on the effects of armed conflict on the children, particularly those who are in the areas targeted by the government’s counter-insurgency campaign against the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The most evident effect of armed conflict on children was the psycho-social trauma brought about by the incident itself and/or its implications on their future. Furthermore, most of them have stopped schooling and had to leave their homes for fear of further human rights violations.

Despite the violations, the study found out that many of the children, due to their natural resiliency, acquired positive coping mechanisms. The children were actively involved in production work, domestic tasks and cultural activities in their communities. They were even involved in community efforts in resisting the military harassment and persecution of local community organizations. More importantly, the study found out that the children were voluntary supporting armed groups as part of their coping mechanisms.

The results of the study remain valid up to the present since human rights violations continue.

In 2007 alone,

  • 13 children have been killed
  • 19 children survived the killings and/or witnessed the death of a loved one
  • 16 children were maimed
  • 5 children were denied of humanitarian aid resulting to the death of 4 babies in an evacuation center
  • 37 children were harassed, arrested and brought to the custody of the government rehabilitation centers

Of the 13 killed, 4 children were even falsely branded as child soldier or child terrorist. Of the 37 arrested, many remained “detained” in government youth homes

These human rights violations were the result of the all-out effort of the military to “crush” insurgency by 2010 under the Oplan Bantay Laya that served to eliminate not only the armed groups but also the civilians in communities and organizations perceived to be supporters or sympathizers of the armed groups. The Arroyo government’s OBL took its cue from the “war on terror” that the US imperialist waged against perceived enemies since 2001. The Philippines is part of the so-called “second front” of this war on terror. Using the pretext of averting terror attacks, armed groups, regardless of whether they are waging national liberation or self-determination, are now considered terrorists.

The United Nations for its part has wittingly or unwittingly supported the US paranoia. From the previous declarations and protocols recognizing the right of peoples to wage war against repressive and dictatorial regimes, it is now gearing its efforts to hold accountable and pin down national liberation movements in various edicts.

One particular document that remains controversial, if not debatable, is the Paris Principles that drew up the principles and guidelines on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Technically, the Paris Principle superseded the Cape Town principle that defined “child soldiers”. In the Paris Principle, the term “child soldier” was dropped and the term “children associated with armed groups” was used to encompass those who participate or espouse a view inimical to a favored interest regardless of form in advocacy and support.

The term used may have changed but the treatment and handling of children that fall into the category did not differ from the way a child soldier/combatant was previously handled, where in reality, intervention and approach should have been designed differently. The principle therefore falls short in its intent to curb the phenomenon of child soldier and has instead magnified or exaggerated its actual reality contrary to the best interest of a child.

While it is true that there are is a pressing need to address the state and non-state actors’ forcible recruitment of children as combatants, the formulated principles, however, failed to take into account specific contexts and character of armed conflicts. The principle has concentrated more on the type of wars found in the African context and failed to take into account the situation children in countries where the character of armed conflict enjoys a wide range of people’s support in toppling the oppressor, which in most case is the state.

In the Philippines, the armed conflict between the State and major armed groups – the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is nearing its 4 decades of existence. With such capacity to stay and sustain the armed struggle for years, it is undeniable that these groups enjoy vast support from and mainly rely on the civilian populace. The New People’s Army for example, has not only engaged in pure militaristic activities but also in community activities both social and economic. This, in addition to the fact that this armed group embodies the aspirations of the majority of the Filipino people for a just and humane society.

Given this situation, the government’s effort to eliminate the armed groups through its counter insurgency policy does not only target members of armed group but the civilian community as well. This tactic has a frightening consequence in the life of the community in general and of children in particular.

And as a consequence of the broadened definition or the term children associated with armed groups, the State has been given all the more the ‘moral authority’ to perpetrate child rights violation in the pretext of countering terrorism.

In the past six years, an alarming number of children have been presented by the Philippine government as child soldiers in their effort to up their ante in the propaganda war against their “enemies”. In reality, these children were twice victimized as they suffered torture, physical injuries and illegal arrests and detention to force them to admit membership to the armed group before being presented to the media as members of communist-terrorist groups. A number of them were fortunate to be released, though most bear bruises from physical and mental torture. Some are still under detention in government rehabilitation centers with cases of murder, rebellion, arson ,etc. Others are not so fortunate as they paid with their own lives.

This is but part of the far reaching implication that the Paris Principle has on the lives and welfare of the Filipino children. The vagueness of its operational definition provides justification to the State's brutal and excessive use of force against children in conflict affected areas. The document in essence does not address child protection issues and renders vulnerable to attacks the areas and communities perceived to be bastions of insurgents.

It is unfortunate that the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children in Armed Conflict chose to highlight in her report the so-called “recruitment and use of children in armed conflict” rather than the grave abuse and violations against children’s rights in which the State is the primary perpetrator. Furthermore, the cases cited were included based on mere allegations and anecdotal data rather than documented and verified documentation. Upon our own verification, many of the cases were ordinary children, some of them schoolchildren, who were merely chanced upon by government troops during counter-insurgency operations and were otherwise arrested, detained and branded as child soldiers. Some where even forced to admit under duress and torture to membership with the armed groups.

We are sure that these human rights violations against children, particularly the false branding of children as children involved in armed conflict happen to children in countries where national liberation movements exist. In countries listed in the so-called Annex 2, armed groups are being pushed against the wall by the UN Security Council on this issue. The LTTE of Sri Lanka for example, has already been sanctioned with a travel ban against its leaders for failure to stop the recruitment of child soldiers. Sooner or later, other countries would follow.

Thus, we need to unite, under the ILPS to challenge the Paris Commitment and oppose other such efforts to undermine the struggle of peoples, including children, In line with this, we propose a resolution for the ILPS members, particularly in countries being accused of recruiting children in their armed groups, at the minimum, to study further and come up with a critique of the Paris Commitment based on their own contexts and experiences. From there, we can expose the true objective of the UN and that is, to undermine the people’s war and the national liberation movements that serve to challenge their imperialist power.

( This paper was presented at the Third International League of People's Struggle held in Hongkong last June 2008)