Minors bare ordeal in North Cotabato military operation

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/20 July)—Two minors and their uncle came out in public yesterday to prove that children have been used as “guides” during a recent military operation in Magpet, North Cotabato.

Domeng, an uncle of Dodong, 13, and Jun-Jun, 12, said they decided to bring the children in the open to refute earlier statements made by a top Army official that soldiers did not use non-combatants when they conducted last Monday combat patrol operations in the villages of Bagumbayan, Amabel, and Basak, all in Magpet town.

Domeng, Dodong and Jun-Jun, who spoke with the local media, asked that their real names be withheld for security reasons.

Domeng said they took the risk of disclosing in public what happened to his nephews a day before the military operation so the people would understand that they are not creating stories just to destroy the Army.

Domeng said that at around 11 a.m. Sunday, Dodong and Jun-Jun were headed towards the house of a relative at Sitio Boay-Boay in Barangay Basak to charge a cellular phone battery when they chanced upon some 50 soldiers under the 57th Infantry Battalion’s Charlie Company.

“The soldiers asked us where we’re going.   When we told them the place, they won’t believe us.   Instead, they told us to join them in their search for rebels.  If we won’t tell them, they told us we would be tied to the rubber trees,” Dodong said in the vernacular.

“The soldiers searched two houses in the area yet they could not find any rebel.   We were freed at around 3 p.m.,” recounted Jun-Jun.

Domeng said they did not meet any staff of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Region 12 when the latter visited Barangay Bagumbayan last Wednesday to check on the veracity of the reports.

“We were not informed of the CHR visit.   Besides, we were afraid to even go to nearby village[s] for fear we might meet the soldiers along the way.  We are afraid of them,” he explained.

However, they said they are willing to give testimonies to the CHR.

Earlier, Lt. Nasrullah Sema of the 57th IB denied allegations that some of their men used children as guides.

“We know that using children or civilians during wars is prohibited by law and by existing covenants and agreements like the CARHRIHL.   Also, we were trained to respect human rights, especially children’s rights, at all times,” said Sema.

CARHRIHL stands for the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the first substantive agreement signed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front in Hague, Netherlands on March 16, 1998.

The fighting between the Army and the communist guerrillas last Monday resulted to the evacuation of several families from three villages, many of them have returned home two days after, reports said. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)