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    Soldiers still target children

    April 4, 2011, by Marya Salamat,Bulatlat.com

    MANILA – When President Benigno Simeon Aquino announced a new counter-insurgency program in place called Oplan Bayanihan, respecting human rights was said to be one of its biggest changes from the one it replaced, the bloody Oplan Bantay-Laya. In the last few months though, rights advocates noted that not much seems to have really changed in the military’s conduct.

    For instance, last March 4 when more than 30 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines conducted military operations in the hinterlands of Carolina village in Matuguinao, Samar, the residents reported that they were forcibly summoned to a meeting at the town plaza. They were first alerted by a five-minute gunfire, followed by soldiers burning of a house near their village.

    Based on a report of the Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas, a regional alliance for human rights in the area, the soldiers pelted with stones the houses of residents who did not immediately heed their call for a meeting. In one of the houses “visited” by soldiers to check if the residents had complied with their summons, they entered a house with four children inside, aged from four to 12 years old. The children had been left on their own because their father was picked up by the military to attend the town meeting.

    According to the Katungod-SB report, a soldier acting as team leader interrogated the children, asking them if they have a gun. When the children answered no, the soldier accused them of lying. Only when the eldest child told the soldier to search the house if they didn’t believe them did the soldiers leave.

    “The Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan of the AFP, on paper, gives primacy to human rights. Does this incident show any iota of respect to human rights?” asked Kathrina R. Castillo, head of the documentation of Katungod– SB.

    Children rights must be respected at all times, Castillo reiterated. But this incident that they had documented “shows the ignorance of soldiers and the culture of disrespect and shroud of impunity arrogated by the soldiers to themselves as they obediently implement the counter-insurgency program devised by the US–Aquino III Regime”, Castillo said.

    In Surigao del Sur, 110 families including children were forced to flee their homes as the military indiscriminately fired canons targeting their areas last month. Karapatan-Caraga Secretary General Dr. Naty Castro said in a statement, “The conduct of these active combat operations clearly shows that the AFP regards civilians as collateral damage in its anti-insurgency campaign. Oplan Bayanihan reveals itself as no different from Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya after all.”

    Children as Fair Game for Military Operations

    Last week marked the fourth death anniversary of Grecil Buya, a nine-year old victim of strafing by the military in New Bataan town in Davao City. After four years, children’s rights advocates lamented that justice has been elusive for her and other children who were falsely accused as child soldiers.

    “The case of Grecil Buya is just one of the many cases of continuing abuse targeting children, said Edessa Campos, Advocacy Officer of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC). “Unfortunately, the perpetrators remain unpunished and the military’s habit of misrepresenting children as “child soldiers” for their counter-insurgency operations remains unchecked,” said Campos.

    Grecil was the 9-year old child killed by the military’s 67th Infantry Battalion in an encounter with the New People’s Army in New Bataan Compostela Valley. The military claimed that Grecil was an NPA child soldier and that she was carrying an M-16 rifle and firing at them. But based on the frail body structure of the diminutive Grecil, it turned out that it was physically impossible for her to have carried an M-16 rifle and fired it. Documents also confirmed that Grecil was a studious grade two student of Simsimen Elementary School.

    As of 2010 the CRC has documented 19 cases of children who were mislabeled by the military as “child soldiers” from Mindanao. Campos said “The misrepresentation of children as ‘child soldiers’ is a clear violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).”

    Last year, the CRC handled the case of “Amanda”, a minor at the time. The soldiers from the 84th Infantry Battalion under 10th Infantry Division presented Amanda to the media as a “child soldier” last September. “Amanda” was supposedly included in the top three list of “child soldiers” in the Philippines. But CRC proved these allegations were wrong, Campos said.

    “We urge the Aquino government to have concrete and sustainable program for children affected by armed conflict and, in general, to protect the basic rights of children,” Campos said. (http://bulatlat.com)

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