Coni K. Ledesma
Chairperson, NDFP Special Office for the Protection of Children
Member, NDFP Negotiating Panel
The Special Office for the Protection of Children (SOPC) of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) takes strong exception to the false and biased reports of the UN Office of the Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict (SRCAC) on the so-called recruitment and use of children by the New People’s Army (NPA).
After consultations with its regional representatives, the SOPC has confirmed that the allegations by the UN SRCAC of recruitment and use of children by the NPA in 2012 are baseless. Those claimed to be child soldiers were civilians whom the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had illegally arrested, detained and tortured or killed during military operations on what the Manila government calls “peace and development projects” against communities suspected of supporting or under the influence of the revolutionary movement.
All of these children happened to be in areas close to where armed encounters between the AFP and the NPA took place. One was killed because of indiscriminate gunfire by AFP soldiers; others had been traumatized by artillery and aerial bombardments and were arrested while attempting to seek refuge in nearby communities.
The AFP practice of targeting children in communities and presenting them as child soldiers was again exposed on 23 June 2013 by the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC) when they presented to the media three teenagers who were arrested and detained by the AFP in Kulasi, Sultan Kudarat, for purportedly being rebels when they were actually refugees who were attempting to return to their homes with adult companions to get their belongings after having evacuated from their community due to an armed encounter between the AFP and the NPA.
We urge the UN SRCAC to advice its Philippine Country Task Force for Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) to be more discerning and circumspect in the performance of its functions by exercising basic due diligence and not relying solely on reports by agencies of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) such as the AFP, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
The CTFMR as befitting its mandate should investigate the situation on the ground by talking to the people in the concerned community – the parents, teachers, independent human rights groups and even local officials. The illegally arrested and detained children have suffered enough and should not be coaxed or coerced into making false statements and incriminating admissions while in the presence of GPH officials.
We also urge the UN SRCAC and its country task force to submit their findings to the SOPC of the NDFP for appropriate verification and investigation of such reported alleged recruitment and use of children by the NPA. We deplore the fact that while the AFP is given an opportunity to respond, the NDFP through its SOPC has not even been informed of such allegations.
The NDFP has issued its Declaration and Program of Action for the Rights, Protection and Welfare of Children. The policies and program of the NDFP to protect the rights of children are clearly stated in this document. This document is strictly followed by all the allied organizations of the NDFP, which include the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines.