AFP violate children’s rights in areas under armed conflict
By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
BAGUIO CITY — In a remote town of Sadanga, Mountain Province, detachments were established by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in school compounds allegedly to neutralize the usual presence of the New Peoples Army (NPA), a revolutionary force which operates in the area and in the whole Cordillera region.
Sources said that there are at least three schools in the said town where military camps were established: in the Sadanga Elementary School in Tap-ag, Sadanga National High School in Sangey, and Belwang Elementary School in Belwang. Troops camped there were identified to be from the 54th IB led by a certain Lt. Joseph Sabas.
With the troops’ presence, some teachers positively favor and justify the armed presence that they are there to guard the schools from the influence of the rebels.
Reached to verify the presence of military camps in the said schools, the mayor of the town confirmed the troops’ encampment inside the campuses. When residents were interviewed they even identified the locations to be within the campuses mentioned.
“Yes, it is with the permission of the barangay officials kasi ayaw namin umaumay NPA nga agrecruit young people me” (because don’t like the NPA visits to recruit our youth), explained Sadanga Mayor Gavino Ganggangan in an SMS message.
This revealed that the presence of the military troops in the area is traceable to the anti-insurgency campaign of the government to maintain “peace” because various mining applications covering that area are already inked.
While Mayor Ganggangan, alleged barangay officials, and some teachers welcomed the military presence in the area, others are more concerned of the validity of the military presence and its effect on the school children.
In June this year, a team of UNICEF officials headed by Robert MacTavish went to visit the area. As the camps were proven to be inside the school campuses, they reportedly wrote the AFP to act on the removal of the camps as it endangers the safety of the children, a local member of the team revealed. But the troops remained there to the present.
In an interview with Anastacia B. Tamayo, she explained that International Humanitarian Law (IHL) applies in the areas (in the Philippines) where two contending forces exist. As indicated by the information from the mayor and the teachers both the AFP and the rebels operate in Sadanga area (as in other areas of the region), various instruments under IHL apply. These instruments are to protect civilians, children, non-combatants and institutions like schools, hospitals and church, she added.
The children are caught in the “crossfire” in this situation due to the presence of the two forces, hence there is the intervention of the IHL, opines Tamayo, chapter administrator of the Philippine Red Cross here. She cited that the Philippine Congress passed, on December 11, 2009, Republic Act 9851 which mandates that government act on crimes against the International Humanitarian Law.
More instruments protect children
In a media seminar on child protection in this city, speakers explained that the presence of the military camps inside school campus is tantamount to the violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child.
The presence of armed groups unduely influenced and in-still fear on the children, explained Cesar Giovanni Soledad, program manager of the International Labour Organization.
Protection and care of children affected by armed conflict are mandated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child which the Philippine government is obliged to implemented.
Children in armed conflict are even protected under our national system, reiterated Ariel Hans Sebellino, executive director of the Philippine Press Institute.
To implement the convention, the Philippines particularly passed Republic Act (RA) 7610 which provides special protection for children against abuse, exploitation and discrimination, including children in armed conflict.
An expert on indigenous people’s rights pointed that the presence of military in the community needs the free, prior and informed consent from the concerned citizens.
The source said that the FPIC as mandated by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 is required as the program or policy of military deployment affects their existence or self-determination as a collective group.
On the other hand, in a phone interview, Cordilleras’ Department of Education office, Delfin Salidao, the legal officer, points out that military detachment or barracks inside the school campus is not allowed as a policy of their office.
He referred this reporter to call their division office in Mountain Province if they had granted such request by the AFP, which, he claimed, maybe allowed. The calls to check their MP Division failed due to typhoon-cut communication lines.
Rights vs. Military camps non-negotiable
Rights advocates – both in the international and local – claimed that the rights of the children against military camps and barracks inside school campuses are prohibited and non-negotiable, as provided by the UN instruments, Convention on the Rights of the Child and local laws.
The UNICEF said that the convention contains universally set of non-negotiable standards and obligations which provide protection and support for the rights of the children.
“As the Philippine state is a signatory to the said convention and ratified it on July 26, 1990, it must strictly observe it without exemption,” said Jude Baggo, secretary-general of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) reiterating RA 7610, Art X, Sec. 22, paragraph e which states: “Public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and rural health units shall not be utilized for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments and supply depots.” # nordis.net