Groups to sue 57th IB over ‘child warrior’ controversy

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/7 April) – The human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights) and a nongovernment organization are set to file charges of abduction and violation of a child’s rights against an Army unit in North Cotabato.

Lindy Trinilla, officer-in-charge of the Davao City-based Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), said the complaints stemmed from the case of a 12-year old boy who was placed under the custody of the 57th Infantry Battalion in Makilala, North Cotabato last month.

Trinilla accused the 57th IB of “coaching” the boy into admitting he was a child warrior of the New People’s Army (NPA).

She also criticized Lt. Col. Noli Vinluan, commander of the 57th IB, for presenting to media the boy, identified only as Balong, without the presence of a social worker or any of his immediate family members and relatives.

“That, in itself, was a violation and the Army is answerable to that,” she said.

For his part, Vinluan said he is willing to face any charges in any court to prove their innocence.

He also challenged Karapatan and the CRC “to tell the truth” and not twist facts just to deny that the NPA was “actually using child warriors in their guerrilla warfare.”

Vinluan, citing as basis Balong’s statement, said the NPA operating in Mount Apo had at least nine child warriors.

The Army official maintained that Balong voluntarily surrendered to authorities and was not arrested as earlier claimed by Karapatan.

It was on March 22, he said, that Balong sought help from a barangay chair in Kidapawan City after he escaped from a military offensive in Magpet town in North Cotabato.

“The village chair then brought the boy to the city police station. But the police asked us to handle the boy, which we refused at first. Since nobody is willing to take care of the boy, we acceded to the police request,” said Vinluan.

He explained he presented Balong to the media as proof he did not inflict harm on the boy and that it was his decision to seek help from authorities.

The military official said he expected Karapatan and other “left-leaning” organizations to come to the boy’s rescue.

“When these groups learned of this, they immediately accused me of coaching the boy, which was a big lie. I challenged these groups to be true to themselves and not hide the fact that the NPAs are actually using children as their warriors,” he added. (MindaNews)