KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/17 July) — Militant women in North Cotabato condemned the alleged use of children as “guides and human shields” by soldiers who attacked suspected rebel camps in Magpet, North Cotabato on Monday.
In a statement, Ruby Padilla-Sison, head of Gabriela-North Cotabato, said the Alpha Company of the 57th Infantry Battalion used two children, aged 12 and 13, as guides in their search for communist guerillas in Barangays Bagumbayan and Basak in Magpet town, around 10 a.m., on Monday.
Reports reaching Gabriela said the children were on their way home at 10am after working in a farm when soldiers met them along the road in Barangay Basak, a kilometer away from where fighting between government troops and the rebels took place.
Sison, quoting sources, told media that the soldiers ordered the children to join them in the search for rebels. The children were released after two hours, she said.
She said the act showed that the soldiers were not aware of the prohibition on the use of children in armed conflict.
Esther Amores-Roque, Magpet municipal information officer confirmed reports that many school children from Sitios Bantaan and Natutungan, both in Barangay Bagumbayan, have skipped classes since Monday.
“After they heard blasts and gunfire children went home early. They did not return to school in the afternoon and until Tuesday because of fear the fighting might again erupt,” said Roque.
She said the children should undergo trauma counseling, adding it would be difficult to promise them a bright future if all they could experience is fear.
Lt. Manuel Gatus, commander of the Bravo Company, said they will have the complaint investigated.
“We want to ensure that children are safe and spared from wars,” he said.
The firefight on Monday came three months after government soldiers and New People’s Army rebels clashed in Bagumbayan.
Lt. Bruno Hugo, commander of the Alpha Company of the 57th IB, said that the encounter on Monday led to the capture of a major rebel camp in Magpet.
The rebels, he said, were led by Commander Joeffrey of the NPA’s Front 53 operating in Magpet, Antipas, Arakan, and President Roxas towns, all in North Cotabato. (Malu Manar/MindaNews)