By Anne Marxze D. Umil, Bulatlat.com
MANILA – Asserting that the state is the primary violator of Filipino children’s rights, members of progressive women’s group Gabriela and Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns picketed the Department of National Defense (DND), April 5.
The groups said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should be held accountable for the grave violations committed against children as a result of its counterinsurgency programs. They also criticized President Benigno S. Aquino III’s internal security plan called the Oplan Bayanihan as the framework for these attacks.
The protest action was held in time for United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (UN SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy’s meeting with the military and government officials.
Coomaraswamy’s visit in the country from April 3 to 7 is part of the monitoring and reporting mechanism of the UN Security Council on the commitment of countries listed in the Annex 2 of Paris Principles
“State violence against children must stop, the Aquino administration should scrap its counterinsurgency plan Oplan Bayanihan,” Gabriela said.
Violence against children continues under Aquino
Gert Ranjo-Libang, Gabriela deputy secretary general, said that Oplan Bayanihan has resulted to loss of children’s parents, forcible evacuation of children from their homes, illegal arrest, illegal recruitment of minors to paramilitary groups, torture, and rape.
Data from the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) showed that there are 953 children victims of human rights abuses perpetrated in the context of counterinsurgency operations within the first six months of the Aquino administration. Included in those violations is the branding of children victims as “child soldiers.”
“Branding children that they allegedly killed or captured during military operations as ‘child soldiers’ is the military’s ploy to avoid accountability over their violations,” Libang said, adding that in many instances, government troops either mistakenly or intentionally killed or arrested a child-civilian and covered up their lapse by declaring that the victims are “child soldiers.”
“While AFP claims that non-state actors such as revolutionary groups are recruiting minors, the fact is that AFP is the foremost recruiter of children for the use of military operations,” said Libang.
Salinlahi highlighted the cases of recruitment of minors to Cafgu in San Juan, Batangas  ; harassment of one family in Calinog, Iloilo resulting to the psychological instability of a young girl; torture of a teenage boy in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur ; and the attack on the B’laan Literacy and Learning Center  in Malapatan, Sarangani.
“We fear that at the end of Aquino’s term, the Arroyo administration’s bad human rights record would be approximated, if not surpassed by the AFP,” Melissa San Miguel, Salinlahi spokeswoman, said.
According to Salinlahi, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program resulted to the death of 77 children. Fifty-nine others survived frustrated killings.
“Unfortunately, it is the same under the Aquino administration which continued Arroyo’s OBL then came up with its own Oplan Bayanihan. The gross violations are being carried out with the same impunity that has characterized its predecessor. The Aquino government must be made accountable not only for its violations but also for failing to give justice on the past administration’s violations, thus letting the clout of impunity in the country remain,” Gabriela’s Libang said.
Salinlahi also called on to the UN SRSG to hold the military accountable to human rights violation committed against children. “The culture of impunity remains as long as the AFP is allowed to escape accountability,” San Miguel said.
“We also urge her [Coomaraswamy] to highlight Philippine government’s counterinsurgency program as violative of the rights of children and the people, and draw on her mandate to help seek justice to victims,” Libang said.#