DAVAO CITY(MindaNews/ 18 August)—With the help of the United Nations Children’s Fund, child rights advocates here have vowed Wednesday to submit a report to the National Security Council (NSC) cases of alleged violations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Rius Valle, Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) advocacy officer, said their report will focus on two incidents of using children from villages in Magpet, Noth Cotabato as guides by the military to track camps of the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
“We will report these cases to the National Security Council, so that appropriate actions will be done at the national level because the local government failed to help the victims,” he added.
Officials from the local government could not be immediately reached for comments.
Early this month, CRC, Kabiba Alliance of Children’s Concern and human rights group Karapatan conducted a fact-finding mission in Barangays Basak and Bagumbayan in Magpet.
Valle said they conducted the fact-finding mission following a report about the two boys– Jun-Jun, 13, and Kim-Kim, 12, (not their real names) from Sitio Boay-Boay, Basak— who were allegedly forced to the guide troops of the 57th Infantry Battalion (IB) last July 15.
It was only during the fact-finding mission that we learned about a similar incident that happened last March 29 involving Ron-Ron, 16, and Jong-Jong, 15, (also not their real names) from Bagumbayan, Valle said.
“As child rights advocates, we condemn the act of involving civilians, especially children, in military operations such as forcing them to guide the troops in search for the revolutionaries because it is a violation of their rights,” he said.
Valle said that after the case of the two boys from Basak was publicized, representatives from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) 12 conducted an investigation.
However, the CHR-12 was not able to get substantial data as villagers denied that the AFP used children as guides. Military troops were present during the questioning, he said.
Lt. Col. Noel Dela Cruz, commander of the 57th IB, said Friday that they had armed encounters with the NPA last March 29 and July 16, but denied the allegations that his soldiers used children as guides.
He told MindaNews the CHR-12 met him Friday morning to ask about the allegations as part of its ongoing investigation.
Citing that the CHR 12 will facilitate a dialogue with village officials and all parties concerned, he said the AFP is willing to cooperate in order to clear the issues and to impose discipline among the ranks should there be violations committed.
At a press conference here on Wednesday, boys from the Manobo tribe– Ron-Ron and Jong-Jong of Sitio Bantaan, Bagumbayan and Jun-Jun and Kim-Kim of Sitio Boay-Boay, Basak—narrated what had happened.
Ron-Ron and Jong-Jong recalled that at about 8 a.m. on March 29, they were on their way to pick some marang fruits in Sitio Bantaan, Bagumbayan, when they met 15 soldiers.
The soldiers immediately searched our clothes, Ron-Ron said.
“They told us to lead them to where the armed men (NPA) are positioning on the hill ahead. I told them I don’t know. But the soldiers said we should go with them. And so we did,” Ron-Ron said in Cebuano.
Ron-Ron recalled that while walking with the government troops, he and Jong-Jong were frequently asked by the soldiers for directions towards the NPA camp, but the boys kept on saying they have no idea.
“I attempted to run away but a soldier stopped me and told me that he will shoot us if we’d run,” Ron-Ron said.
The boys said they kept on walking and stopped at a santol tree, where they were left with four soldiers, while the rest climbed the hill. Later, they heard gunshots coming from uphill.
“That was when I escaped,” Jong-Jong narrated. “Ron-Ron pushed me to go first and so I crawled my way out from the site so they would not see me. I ran for an hour back home.”
“I couldn’t escape because a soldier was pointing a rifle at me,” Ron-Ron said. He was able to escape when a soldier from the hill asked him to get a nail for fixing a jammed machine gun.
Last July 15, Jun-Jun and Kim-Kim from Sitio Boay-Boay, Basak, went to a nearby village, Bagumbayan, to charge a cellphone battery, and later, they were warned by some villagers to avoid passing a rubber plantation area because soldiers were there.
Following the elders’ advice, Jun-Jun recalled they did a shortcut, but still met some 50 soldiers on their way ahead.
Three soldiers allegedly asked the boys to point where the NPAs were stationed and threatened them to be tied around a rubber tree if they would not tell.
“We pointed towards where there are bamboo trees,” Jun-Jun said, adding that it was their immediate response despite not knowing anything at all.
He said they stopped by the house of a certain Bala and the troops entered the house only to find out that nobody was there.
“We continued walking until Kim-Kim started crying. I told them that we wanted to go home because we’re so hungry,” Jun-Jun said.
When they reached the area of the bamboo trees, he said the soldiers told them to leave.
“The next day, we heard gunshots from that area,” Jun-Jun added.
All the boys voiced fears of again encountering soldiers because of their experience with the government troops. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews)