“We are ready to apologize on Grecil case, but …”

The military initially reported Grecil to be a “child soldier” of the NPA.

Holganza, chief of the Army's 1001st Infantry Brigade, told the Kapihan sa PIA news conference Friday that he was inclined to believe that Grecil was not a child soldier after the military conducted its investigation.

The moment the military command found out she was only nine years old, he said he immediately sent a patrol back to the victim's residence to assist her family.

Holganza said, however, he will only apologize if other minor details would be clarified further, including his doubt on the background of Gregorio Galacio, the victim's father.

He said that the initial report culled from the village chief was that she was 12 years old, which, he said, matched the reported age of minors recruited by the communists to the NPA.

Holganza said troops reported that Grecil was found holding a rifle while comfortably mingling with the armed men in the area of contact.

Holganza questioned the ease that the girl was seen when she was spotted among the armed men. "Why was she not afraid of them"? he asked.

He also doubted why Grecil's father easily allowed her daughter to mingle with the armed men. He said Galacio did not tell the truth about the NPA's alleged frequent passing in their area.

He said they found well-placed firearms and "subversive" materials in Galacio's house.

The NPA, alleged Holganza, has made a circus of the situation that is why they went out to clarify what happened to the public.

He said they are holding on to the apology amid speculations that Grecil was really a child soldier and her father was a member of the New Peoples Army.

Holganza said the military was willing to apologize but they have to take time to robe further. He clarified though, that AFP's higher command has the last word on the matter.

He told reporters they were sure the NPA in the region has recruited minors for combat duties and showed confiscated photo grabs allegedly taken from a rebel camp of a boy holding a gun beside an adult. He said minors could be at least 25 percent of their forces.

He said the military was keen on intensifying their education program in the villages to orient school children against the New Peoples Army. He said this would most likely impact on the rebel group's recruitment of minors in the next three years.

Holganza called for armed people in the countryside not to allow children access to firearms.

He said the troops will hesitate to shoot a child soldier when faced with a situation.

"But if one is being fired upon, when life is in danger, he has to shoot back," he said.

Holganza appealed for public cooperation. He said the military was not there just to fight and that combat operations were “just a last recourse for them”.

He invited the NPA to come down and return to the mainstream.

Grecil had just finished Grade 2. She had wanted to be a doctor or a nurse.

She sustained a bullet in her right elbow and another one on the left side of her head.

She was buried on Tuesday at the public cemetery of New Bataan on April 10.

Holganza's call came two days after villagers in two Panabo City barangays
criticized the military for launching air strikes in the area and triggering

The military said it was part of pursuit operations against NPA members who
carted out 117 firearms and thousands of ammunition from the Davao Prison and
Penal Farm on Easter Sunday. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)