ON the occasion of World Human Rights Day last Dec. 10, an Armed Forces general, Major Gen. Nemesio Gacal, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, disclosed that from January 2019 to the present, at least 63 minor combatants of the New People’s Army whose age ranged from 12 to 17 have either been killed or surrendered to authorities during armed confrontations in Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions.
Gacal stressed that the NPA was violating the victims’ human rights as recruitment of minors in armed conflict is prohibited under Rule 136 of the International Humanitarian Law and Republic Act 11188 or the Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict.
Rule 136 of IHL states that “children must not be recruited into armed forces or armed groups” while RA 11188 notes that children in situations of armed conflict shall be protected from all forms of abuse, violence, neglect, cruelty, discrimination and the likes.
On the part of Malacanang, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea has denounced the use of child warriors by the communist rebels, saying this is a serious threat to the government’s efforts to protect children from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, and exploitation. He noted that children and youth are exploited by groups that advance terrorism. They are mostly from indigenous communities and some are as young as 11 years old.
“The HR Day celebration is a fitting reminder of the NPA’s persistent violations of human rights and RA 11188. The NPA leadership must be held accountable and must be punished in order to put an end on this cycle of violations,” General Gacal said.
Last Nov. 30, a 16-year-old teenager was killed during an armed encounter between elements of the 23rd Infantry Battalion (23IB) and suspected NPA rebels in Butuan City. He was Litboy Binongcasan, a Grade 6 pupil of Gingoog City who was recruited by the rebels when he was just 14. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has vowed to investigate Litboy’s case.
The government has not been remiss in coming up with legislation and executive orders to defend children from this kind of exploitation and deception. For example, President Duterte signed early this year the “Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act,” a new law that precisely advocates the security and welfare of children and directly addresses the problem as presented. The Palace also promised to close down some 55 Salugpungan schools, mostly in Mindanao, that allegedly teaches tribal children social and political concepts that are too critical of government, it not downright subversive.
If the needed legislation is present, and the anti-government schools had been identified and their violations verified, we wonder what is taking the government too long to solve the problem of NPA recruitment of our boys and girls in the countryside.
Months ago, President Duterte said in anger that he would order the Air Force to bomb the anti-government tribal schools in the hinterlands but this proved to be just strong words and all air. Meanwhile, Filipino children, especially the most poor and vulnerable, are being led to terrorism both by the communist New People’s Army and the Islamist jihadists, the remnants of the Maute Group and Islamic State.