Filipino-American rights group, New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), met recently with leaders of the NY-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to refute the Philippine government’s claim that the New Peoples Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are recruiting children to join their ranks.
NYCHRP’s Berna Ellorin and Garry Labao met with Elaine Pearson of HRW’s Asia Division and Bede Sheppard of HRW’s Children’s Rights Division to clarify that such claims are “false and deceiving.”
“The child soldier accusation is actually a tactic of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Arroyo administration to escape its own accountability over the killings of Filipino children,” Labao told the HRW, adding that the so-called “child-guerillas” being peddled as “evidence” by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are actually child victims caught in the crossfire in the AFP’s military campaign against the rebel movements.
“When a child is killed by the AFP, oftentimes they plant weapons by their bodies and report that the victim was a combatant,” Labao and Ellorin clarified.
The two cited the case of 9-year old Grecil Buya, whose head was blown off last year by AFP fire. She was killed in her own backyard in Compostela Valley. The military claimed that Buya was wielding an M-16 rifle when they shot her.
“Grecil’s story is not uncommon. The Arroyo administration, after being exposed and condemned for its rampant disregard for human rights all over the world, is so desperate to redeem its image that it will stoop this low, using the youngest civilian victims of armed conflict to twist the facts and brand the rebel movement instead, when the rights of Filipino children are most compromised and threatened by her state rule and her military,” said Labao.
There are over 800 cases of huma rights violations involving 215,233 child victims documented in the Philippines, Labao and Ellorin Labao and Ellorin told the HRW, citing data compiled by the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) and Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns. These include extrajudicial killings, frustrated killings, enforced disappearances, illegal search and seizure, rape, sexual harrassment, illegal arrest and detainment, and physical assault. In most cases, AFP elements were identified as the perpetrators.
Earlier this month, US President George Bush signed into law the Child Soldiers Accountability Act that makes it a federal crime to recruit knowingly or to use soldiers under the age of 15, and permits the US to prosecute any individual on US soil for the offense, even if the children were recruited or served as soldiers outside the United States.
“Arroyo is pouncing on this new US law, loudly drumbeating her armed opposition as child soldier recruiters, to advance her agenda and divert the public’s attention from the crimes of her own military,” NYCHRP concluded
HRW concluded the meeting by thanking Labao and Ellorin and expressing plans to stay in touch for another probe trip to the Philippines early next year. NYCHRP last communicated with Pearson when HRW agreed to meet with Desaparacidos national spokesperson Edita Burgos earlier this year.
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