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Position paper on the Special Protection to Children in Situation s of Armed Conflict (House Bills 0823, 1332 and 3005)

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 bill at hand.

The House Bills 0823, 1332 and 3005 or the consolidated House Bill entitled, AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE SPECIAL PROTECTION OF CHILDREN IN SITUATIONS OF ARMED CONFLICT AND PROVIDING PENALTIES FOR THE VIOLATIONS THEREOF, in all respects, complement each other and the consolidated bill laid down in the previous congress. The problematic contents of the bills and the inclusion of the Paris Principle as its basic framework have convinced us not to support its passage.

Although we recognize the objective of the Paris Principle in protecting the rights of children in armed conflict. The Paris Principle, in its original context, is not applicable to the Philippine situation.

With the Paris Principles, the military can further justify victimization of children and residents of rural communities proclaimed as “controlled areas” of the NPAs, the MNLF or MILF. Living in these areas may be construed as being “associated with the non -state armed groups”.

Moreover, the broadened definition of “children associated with armed groups” as embodied by the Paris Principles has been maliciously used by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other state forces for their propaganda purposes, at the expense of the children and their rights. From 2010-2013, twenty - two (22) children have been systematically and falsely branded as “child soldiers” , they were presented to the public 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.

In 2012, “Resti”, 16 years old, together with “Mario”, 18 years old and “Jerome”, 17 years old, were looking for work in coconut farms in a town in Quezon when elements of the 74th Infantry Battalion pointed guns at them and arrested them for no reason. Lt. Col. Dennis Perez, commanding officer of the Philippine Army's 74th Infantry Battalion (IB), released to the media that they were members of New People’s Army(NPA). Resti was only released after ten (10) months of detention in the National School Training for the Boys (NSTB) under the Department of Social Welfare and Development(DSWD)in Tanay, Rizal while Mario and Jerome are still detained in Bicutan Jail. Resti was further made to suffer from psychological trauma during his stay in NSTB.

It is also noteworthy to highlight the cases of tagging of schools in the rural communities as a training ground of non-state armed groups. Students, teachers and community members are harassed, interrogated and tagged as having associations with the armed groups.

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” subjects children to trauma that could 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 escape from accountability, by labeling children victims as “child soldiers”. Moreover, it condones the act of state forces in inflicting trauma to these children which contradictory to the concept of promoting and protecting the rights and welfare of children.

Additionally, unlike the provision of the bill, all parties to the conflict should be on equal footing. The Armed Forces must also be treated as possible perpetrators and should not be given any special treatment or consideration.

Conclusion:

Same with our previous position, the inclusion of the Paris Principle, the giving of blanket immunity and the ipso facto law provisions 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 this Bill 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. And by resolving the root cause of armed conflict which is the main assurance that all children will fully enjoy their rights.

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

Children's Rehabilitation Center in consultation with the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL)

February 2014