More Children Become Casualties of Philippine Military’s ‘Dirty War’
As the Philippine military continues to wage Oplan Bantay Laya, its so-called “dirty war” against communists as well as activists, peasants and workers, more and more children are not only being caught in the crossfire but have become targets as well of human-rights violations.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – As the Philippine military continues to wage Oplan Bantay Laya, its so-called “dirty war” against communists as well as activists, peasants and workers, more and more children are not only being caught in the crossfire but have become targets of human-rights violations as well. The victimization of these children range from the trauma of witnessing the murder of their parents and loved ones to being directly dragged by the Philippine military into its conflict with the communist New People’s Army, particularly in the countryside.
The most recent case is the murder of Frank Baldomero, chairman of Bayan Muna in Aklan who, on July 5, was shot dead by assassins in front of his 12-year-old son. The two were preparing for school. Baldomero’s murder was the first extrajudicial killing of an activist under the Aquino administration.
Nearly four years ago, on July 31, 2006, gunmen ambushed Dr. Constancio “Chandu” Claver, Bayan Muna’s coordinator in Kalinga, and his wife, Alyce, as they were preparing their seven-year-old child Cassandra for school. Father and daughter survived the attack but Alyce did not.
This dead child was among the victims of military operations
as documented by the Center for the Rehabilitation of Children.
(Photo courtesy of CRC)
as documented by the Center for the Rehabilitation of Children.
(Photo courtesy of CRC)
That same year, according to the Center for the Rehabilitation of Children (CRC), a nongovernment institution for child victims of rights violations, Anthony Licyayo, a peasant leader of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in Cagayan province, was shot dead while carrying his three-year-old son. His body was found the next day “with the bloodied child sleeping on top of his dead body,” the CRC said in a report.
These children are victims of violence in the course of the military’s counter-insurgency operations. Because they happen to be children of farmers, fisherfolk and workers — the sectors that comprise the Filipino majority and the usual target of the military’s operations — they also suffer the fate of their elders, according to the CRC.
“Children are also traumatized as they witnessed the death of, or violence against, their loved ones,” Esmeralda Macaspac, executive director of CRC, told Bulatlat.
Other children with similar experiences, said Jacq Ruiz of CRC, developed a phobia of the military or motorcycles like those favored by assassins. Some children grew up harboring guilt feelings, blaming themselves for the death or anguish of their parent, added Pia Perez-Garduce, former spokesperson of the child advocacy group Salinlahi.
Garduce said some children also develop insecurities or self-doubt, as exemplified by a child of one of the journalists killed in the Ampatuan Massacre who thought his parent may have been “bad” hence the attack.
Apart from the assassination of unarmed civilians and activists as part of the military’s Oplan Bantay Laya, which aims to defeat the communist insurgency by targeting their alleged supporters and “fronts” who operate legally, children have likewise suffered the brunt of the military’s campaign against the communists.
In the course of the government’s anti-insurgency operations in the past nine years and a half, some 77 children have been killed, 58 survived attempted killing, another 77 were arrested and detained, four disappeared, 56 were tortured and 21 were reportedly used as guides or shields by the military, according to these reports.
Last March in Samar, a father and his seven-year-old son were fishing at a lake when 60 armed men from the 34th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army arrived and questioned them on the whereabouts of certain persons. While the father was being tortured — he was tied to a tree, blindfolded, a plastic bag over his head — the boy was taken away by at least 10 soldiers.
Later in the day, the soldiers brought the boy back to his father. But that was not the end of if: the two were forced to accompany the soldiers to their hut, which the soldiers proceeded to search. After that, father and son were brought to a military camp in the mountains. For two days since then, the boy and his father accompanied the soldiers in military operations to as far as Northern Samar.
Four other children in Gingoog City suffered a far worse fate. The children — aged two months, two years, five and six — were massacred with their parents, who refused to obey the orders of soldiers from the 29th Infantry Battalion to evacuate an area the military had designated as off-limits. The soldiers ignored the family’s plea that they could not leave because the mother had just given birth and they knew life in the evacuation center would be difficult.
Grecil Buya was accused of being a child NPA. (Photo by davaotoday.com)
These incidents that victimized children during military operations were documented by the CRC. It estimated that from 2001 to June this year, more than 128,000 of the total number of forced evacuees in the country were children. With little food, water and sanitation, among others, life in cramped evacuation centers often forces evacuees to defy military orders and go back to their communities despite the danger.
Two teenage girls, for instance, went back to their house to fetch a few school things and stayed there briefly — but they were shot at by soldiers. Two of their adult companions died after the soldiers left them on the road bleeding from gunshot wounds. The teenagers, who had been detained, were later introduced to the media as “child NPAs.”
Based on case summaries culled by CRC from fact-finding reports of the human-rights group Karapatan, children are being harassed, threatened, tortured, arrested, detained, used as guides or shields in military operations, or, lately, being used as leverage or hostage to force suspected activist or communist parents to show up to claim their children.
Less than three years ago, Grecil Buya, nine, was killed by the military in Compostela Valley province, in Mindanao. The military issued a statement admitting they killed her in a military operation but added that Grecil was a child warrior for the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. At the time that she was shot, the military said Grecil was holding and firing an M16 rifle with one hand while the other held a mirror. An investigation that followed belied the military claims.
Grecil was reportedly about to take a bath in the nearby river when the military opened fire at their house. She was instantly killed. It turned out, too, that she could not have carried an M16 rifle with just one hand, as the rifle was taller than her.
From 2001 to 2007, the CRC noted that children victims like Grecil have often been referred to as “collateral damages” in “legitimate military operations.” After Grecil, the military increasingly tried to “excuse” their violations of human rights and of children’s rights by branding their victims as “child warriors.”
In the process, the CRC lamented the multi-layered victimization of children who not only get their rights trampled upon but are also branded and treated like criminals. All the documented children victims of rights violations, including the supposed “child warriors,” were innocent civilians who only happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, the CRC pointed out.
Aside from Grecil, three teenage cousins plus two of their friends from Agusan del Sur suddenly became NPA warriors in a report by the Philippine Army. Actually child workers, these five youths were on their way to a rubber plantation when they heard bursts of gunfire. They took cover and came out only when the firing stopped. But they were apprehended by soldiers from the 29th IB who accused them of being members of NPA. The parents of these youths were not notified about their “arrest.” When word eventually got to their parents, three of the children were barred from seeing them.
Actually child workers, the military presented these children to the media as child combatants. (Photo courtesy of CRC)
Five days later, after the parents were made to sign documents allowing their children’s detention at the 29th IBPA headquarters until the provincial DSWD approved their “release,” the five detained youths were presented to the media in their region and in Manila as “arrested child soldiers of the NPA.” They were returned to their parents two weeks later, without charges nor further investigation, the CRC said.
False intelligence “reports” have led to massacres, indiscriminate strafing and various harassments that did not distinguish between adults and children. According to a CRC report, a family with two toddlers and a pregnant mother was massacred in 2003 because a resident who was named Roger had been mistaken for Roger Rosal, the spokesman of the NPA.
Last year, a Lumad family lost a father when armed men wearing military uniforms indiscriminately fired at their house. The victims were sleeping at the time. Two girls, one aged four and eight, were wounded. The family was accused of previously hosting some NPA members in their home.
In Negros Occidental, a family with four children was harassed in their own home last year because their house was “big” and could accommodate a meeting of NPAs. A youth wearing an orange shirt in Mindanao was arrested and tortured early this year, simply because his shirt matched the color supposedly worn by the person who had detonated a bomb earlier, the CRC said.
CRC also pointed to other abuses that have been happening as a result of the military holding camps in civilian communities. A 14-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a member of the Philippine Army’s 30th IB in Butuan City. This soldier reportedly threatened her life and that of her family.
Children were among those affected by the displacement in Surigao and Agusan last year as a result of military operations. (File photo)
Soldiers have also taken to courting local girls, even marrying local women, so they could extract information from them, CRC reported.
Stopping Attacks on Children
“Counter-insurgency operations provide the backdrop for and justification of every government’s attack on people’s human rights,” noted the CRC. Oplan Bantay Laya aims to decimate, if not wipe out, the revolutionary groups and secessionist groups in the country by 2010. The deadline has been extended for another three years by the Aquino government.
Far from successfully ending the insurgency, as Karapatan and CRC reported, OBL has only given rise to terror and impunity victimizing even the children and youth.
“A strategic or long-term policy and program to protect children and their rights is one that should address the root causes of internal conflict in the Philippines by addressing poverty, landlessness, scarce social services and inequality,” said Esmeralda Macaspac of the CRC. The group asks the government and the newly installed president to put a stop to the practice of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations victimizing children as well as adults. CRC also urges the government to rescind Oplan Bantay Laya, and to address the root causes of the insurgency by engaging in peace negotiations instead of its current militarist approach.
*Originally posted on Bulatlat On July 24, 2010