Makabayan bloc calls for probe on violations of children’s rights during armed conflict

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 1 Dec) – The Makabayan bloc has called for the investigation on human rights issues in several areas in Mindanao allegedly effected by the Department of Education’s Memorandum 221, series of 2013, or the “Guidelines on the protection of children during armed conflict.”

In a statement emailed to MindaNews, the bloc supported the call for investigation and pullout of troops by convenors of the Manilakbayan 2014 movement, a group traveling to Manila to protest alleged human rights violations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in various areas in Mindanao.

The bloc is composed of Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, Gabriela Women’s Party Reps. Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus, ACT Teachers partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio, Anakpawis partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap and Kabataan partylist Rep. Terry Ridon.

The protest caravan kicked off in Davao City in November.

In a statement, Manilakbayan spokesperson Fr. Christopher Ablon said the AFP memorandum allowed the military to conduct “surveillance and military operations” in schools.

“Republic Act 7610, also known as the ‘Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act,’ establishes that schools are to be zones of peace, being primarily inhabited and functioning for the use of children,” Ablon said.

“Unfortunately, the same cannot be said in practice as well as in policy. Especially in rural areas, the military and paramilitary forces have been known not only to encamp in and around schools and communities, but have also attacked schools, with multiple cases of threat, harassment and intimidation of students and teachers, indiscriminate firing, and arson.”

Ablon cited the following cases:

– In Sitio Kabuluhan, Agustin, Surigao del Sur, a community cooperative school was reportedly burned down by the AFP’s armed paramilitary group. Villagers who approached the soldiers and told them to put the fire out were indiscriminately fired at. In addition, the community cooperative store was ransacked;

– In Sitio Kabalawan, Lianga, Surigao del Sur, in a school under The Tribal Filipino Program, a school building with two classrooms was also burned down by paramilitary and state forces;

– The B’laan Literacy School and Learning Center in Malapatan, Sarangani was occupied by military units for three months;

– Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc., in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, has been repeatedly under attack and encampment by the military’s 60th and 68 Infantry Battalions and Alamara – paramilitary group.

The AFP has repeatedly denied the allegations and vowed to investigate.

In Metro Manila, Manilakbayan’s protests at Times Street, Quezon City, have been marred by dispersals that left seven protesters injured.

Indigenous peoples from Talaingod had earlier this year camped out in Davao City seeking asylum from what they alleged to be “aerial bombings.”

The AFP, in an earlier interview, denied that there were fixed wing bombers operating in the area, but that the explosions the residents heard could have been from surgical strikes from the AFP’s Tactical Operations Group (TOG) 11 attack helicopters providing close air support to ground troops.