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Position of Children's Rehabilitation Center on the Special Protection to Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Bill (House Bills 13, 1280, 2345, 3050 and 4676) filed under 17th Congress

Since the 15th Congress, Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) has been aggressively forwarding its position regarding the bill on the Special Protection to Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (CSAC).

CRC, as a direct service organization helping children victims of human rights violations, including those in armed conflict situations for almost 30 years, sees the necessity to once again present our views and opinions regarding the bills at hand.

The proposed legislation pertaining to special protection to children in situation of armed conflict under the house bills number 13, 1280, 2345, 3050 and 4676, in all respects, complement each other and draw no difference from that of the previous congress.

Much as we agree that the rights and welfare of children should be the paramount consideration in formulating programs and policies of the government, the problematic contents of the aforementioned bills, primarily the inclusion of the Paris Principle as its basic framework, have convinced us to strongly oppose its passage.

The broadened definition of “children associated with armed groups” as embodied by the Paris Principles has been abusively and maliciously used by the state forces for their anti-insurgency campaign by falsely branding children especially in rural communities as being recruited or used by non-state armed groups.

We firmly stand that the proposed legislation will only give license and a blanket of immunity to government state forces and its paramilitary groups to persistently perpetuate human rights violations against children and residents of rural communities proclaimed as “controlled areas” of the NPA, the MNLF, MILF or BIFF. 

Using the Paris Principle, the military can all the more justify victimization of children merely for being residents of these communities. Living in these areas may now be construed as being “associated with the non-state armed groups” and therefore part of legitimate military targets. Having parents, neighbors and friends belonging to people’s organizations that have been alleged by the state as “front organizations” of the armed groups may also make children vulnerable to attacks and make them subject to programs and interventions for “children associated with armed groups”.

For more than three decades of serving children victims of state-sponsored abuses, we have valid reasons to conclude, that the state forces and its paramilitary groups are the main violators of the rights of children whether or not they are in armed conflict situations.

It has been a practice of the AFP to fabricate stories of child soldiers. From 2010-2016, twenty-eight (28) children have been systematically and falsely branded as “NPA rebels” after being subjected to harassment, interrogation, torture, illegal arrest and detention while some were arbitrarily killed and declared as such, all perpetrated by the elements of AFP. Many of these children were even paraded in front of the media. However, we have found strong evidences indicating that the accounts of the children’s involvement with the NPAs were merely concocted by the military.

Last August 18, 2015, five Manobos namely Herminio Samia, 70, his son Jobert, 20, his grandson Norman, 14 and his nephews Emer, 17 and Welmer Somina, 19 were killed by the military elements at Sitio Mandum, Brgy. Mendis, Pangantucan, Bukidnon. ‘Loloy’, a 15 year-old boy, has witnessed the event.

Around 3pm that day, Loloy together with his five relatives heard a series of gunfire from the forest which lasted for almost one hour. Jobert immediately suggested to go to a safer place but Herminio declined as cannot longer take long walks for he is old and blind. At the same time, he insisted that they were civilians. At 5p.m., elements of 3rd Company of the Special Forces Battalion under the command of Capt. Balatbat and Battalion Commander Col. Lidasan arrived at their house, shouting them to get out of the house and line up. The soldiers shot Herminio and his nephew Emer. Loloy was the next target but he was able to hide and run until he could reach the house of Orenio Samia, his uncle.

Not surprisingly, the perpetrators denied the allegations and claimed that the victims, including the children, were members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

It is also noteworthy to highlight the cases of military tagging of lumad community schools in Mindanao as a training ground of the NPA. Aside from military encampment, the students and teachers of these schools are harassed, interrogated and tagged as having associations with the armed group.

Last 2016, around 18 schools of Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services have temporarily halted their operations after state forces, in connivance with different government agencies tagged the lumad schools as schools of the New People’s Army (NPA). Reportedly, on October 11, armed policemen hung tarpaulins in Sitio Buna, Barangay Kipunget in Palimbang labeling CLANS as a front of the NPA. The said notices bear the logos of the Palimbang municipal government, National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Education (DepEd), Philippine Marines, and Philippine National Police (PNP).

Also that day, policemen forcibly entered the school of CLANS and took photos of the school as well as the volunteer teachers. Palimbang Mayor Abubacar ‘Bakre’ Maulana held a ‘peace caravan’ where they distributed fliers tagging CLANS and its personnel as NPAs. He also blatantly ordered the closure of all schools under CLANS and threatened the teachers of possible arrest should they continue operating the school.

From the point of view of an organization upholding children’s rights, being falsely “branded, accused, detained, arrested and/or charged as “children associated with armed groups” subject children to extreme trauma that could hinder their physical, intellectual and socio-emotional development . At the same time, it may affect not only their self- concept but also their “world view” involving concepts such as human rights and justice.

With these bases, CRC considers the passage of the bill as a step to institutionalize AFP’s long history of child rights violations and provide their escape from accountability, by labeling children victims as “child soldiers”.

Conclusion:

Like our previous position, we maintain that the inclusion of the Paris Principle and the giving of blanket immunity in the bill will definitely defeat the very objective of promoting and protecting the rights and welfare of children.

In conclusion, the passage of this bill does not entirely assure us that it would be implemented in the way that the law aims to do. All components of these bills are already covered by law: the Revised Penal Code and other Special Laws such as the RA 7610, RA 9344, to mention a few.

The climate of impunity in committing human rights violations still pervades and is a major stumbling block to our goal of ensuring children in situation of armed conflict are protected. With all these, CRC still stand that the government should address poverty, unemployment, landlessness, low wages, injustices, and lack of basic services.

The peace negotiation between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which is already discussing the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER) that can be a step towards resolving poverty, should be resumed. This, in the long run would be more relevant and beneficial to the lives of Filipino children rather than the CIAC bill.

Thus, CRC sees the bill as repressive, unnecessary and will not assure protection of children and we express our strong opposition against its passage.###