Davao police, militants tussle over presence of children in rally

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 24 Oct) – Is it illegal to let minors or children join their elders in protest actions? Local police and militant groups have expressed opposing views on the issue.

City police director Supt. Alexander Tagum said they will file charges against leaders of militant groups for “using minors” in a rally held Tuesday at the Freedom Park to protest the rising food prices, extended martial law in Mindanao, and alleged human rights abuses against Lumads (indigenous peoples) and farmers.

In an interview with reporters Tuesday, Tagum accused the rally organizers of exploiting children who were mostly Lumad from different provinces of Davao Region and students of the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC), a school for Lumads.

“The children are very pitiful because they are being used. You saw it. We can see that most of them are Lumad, mostly from Salugpongan schools, who are brought here in Davao),” he said in the vernacular.

Militant groups in Davao Region and other parts of Mindanao held rallies on Tuesday to mark the National Peasants’ Month.

Tagum said many of the protesters were among those staying at Haran evacuation center of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City for the past few years now due to alleged harassment by paramilitary and military units in their communities.

He said others entered the city in smaller groups riding buses and passenger vans.

But Karapatan-Southern Mindanao spokesperson Jay Apiag argued that the right of children to participate in protests is enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the country’s 1987 Constitution.

“Tagum is not aware of the rights of the children. In fact, the right to participation of the children is enshrined both in the international and local instruments, most especially in decision-making,” he said.

He added the children are the primary targets of the government’s counterinsurgency program or Oplan Kapayapaan and martial law in Mindanao.

He said the police cannot equate their right to participation to exploitation because their families have been displaced from their homes due to military presence and encampments in school campuses.

“The children strived to go to school for free but the government bombed, burned and destroyed the schools they tried hard to build,” he said in the vernacular.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio also maintained it is the right of the children to protest against the government because they are the primary subjects of the alleged military operations and harassment in their communities and schools.

“I know they have a legitimate cause, to expose the oppression and threats in their communities, harassment and closure of their schools. That’s why they’re here,” he said in Filipino.

He said the struggle for education is a basic right of the Filipino children. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)