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NDFP adopts program to protect children during armed conflict in the Philippines

Aside from coming out with its program of action for the protection of children, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines announced that it will establish a Special Office for the Protection of Children to strengthen its mechanisms on monitoring and defending the rights of Filipino children.
Manila - The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) recently re-affirmed its commitment to defend the rights of Filipino children with a new program of action, while at the same time issuing a sharp criticism against what it said as the "bias" of international organizations and conventions that actually serve to endanger the members of the very sector they say they want to protect. It launched a book titled "NDFP Declaration and Program of Action for the Rights, Protection of Children," at the office of the NDFP-Joint Secretariat of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JS-JMC) in Cubao.

The new book, which contains the new declaration on the NDFP's program for children, also features a situationer on Filipino children, statements of support from NDFP units in the Cordillera, Bicol, North Eastern Mindanao and Mindanao regions, as well as appendices on complaints on human rights violations perpetrated against children and minors involving members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The new declaration itself is comprised of six articles wherein the revolutionary institution reiterated its long-standing position on children's rights within the framework of its political authority. The NDFP's National Council adopted the declaration last April 24, 2012.
NDFP chief negotiator in the Government of the Philippines (GPH)-
NDFP peace talks Luis Jalandoni and NDFP peace panel member Coni Ledesma explained details of the declaration to a an audience comprised of various children and human rights organizations.

Jalandoni said the NDFP recognizes the fact that the overwhelming majority of Filipino children are the sons and daughters of workers, peasants and the urban poor.

"They are victims of an unjust social system which consigns them to a life of poverty, ignorance, malnourishment, disease and underdevelopment as human beings. They are forced to sell their labor. Some are lured into prostitution, and pornography, kidnapped and trafficked for body parts, pushed into vagrancy, beggary, petty thievery and drugs, jailed and hardened criminals," he said.

Jalandoni cited data from the Children's Rehabilitation Center (CRC) stating that as of 2010, there are at least 2.2 million children living in the streets. In the meantime, according to the Children's Information Network, some 20,000 children are imprisoned throughout any single year.

From 2001 to 2010, CRC documented 1,205 cases of different violations, which include the false labelling of 41 children as 'child soldiers' of the New People's Army (NPA). The group also documented cases involving a total of 22 children who were used as guides or shields in military operations, and another four minors who were recruited into paramilitary groups.

"The NDFP regards the continuing gross and systematic violations of the human rights of the majority of Filipino children by the ruling system of big compradors and landlords as one of the compelling reasons for the revolutionary struggle of the Filipino people. Such violations have been aggravated by the deliberate targeting of these children in GRP/GPH military operations against communities suspected of being under the control and/or supportive of the revolutionary movement," he said.

In the declaration paper of the program of action, the NDFP asserted anew its status of belligerency in the civil war against the Government of the Philippines or GPH, making the declaration a direct indictment against what it said was the continuing gross and systematic violations of the human rights of children. The NDFP said as a belligerent state, it is always prepared to engage in dialogue with foreign and international entities with regards to children provided that these institutions recognize and respect the NDFP's political authority.

Program of action to protect children

As previously mentioned, the new declaration is composed of six articles, excluding the preamble. The first article "Declaration to Reaffirm, Protect and promote the Rights of Children," states the NDFP's long-standing resolve to ensure that the rights of children are respected and that their welfare is assured "under the policies and laws of the people's democratic governnent."
Article II "International Law to Protect Children," is a run-down of the conventions and provisions of international law that the NDFP and the New People's army (NPA) adhere to and which are relevant to the rights and protection of children in general or in a situation of armed conflict. All those mentioned - such as Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Article 38 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and Convention No. 183 on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor of the International Labor Organization (ILO) - are all mutually binding in agreements between the NDFP and the GPH.

The 2011 Survey on Children: Child labour in the Philippines of the National Statistics Office (NSO) revealed that of the 29 million Filipino children, aged 5-17 years old, there are roughly about 5.5 million working children, of which almost three million are in hazardous child labor. A decade ago in 2001, there were four million working children, of which 2.4 were in hazardous child labor while in 1995, there were 3.6 million working children, of which 2.2 were in hazardous child labor.

The ILO in its Manila office said there is a need to get to the root of child labour which is linked with poverty and lack of decent and productive work.

"While we strive to keep children in school and away from child labour, we need to ensure decent and productive work for parents and basic social protection for families," said ILO Director of the ILO Country Office in the Philippine Lawrence Jeff Johnson.

Article III, in the meantime, is a reiteration of the rules of the NPA when it comes to children and recruitment. In it, the NDFP declared the 1988 decision of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of the Philippines' (CPP) that the NPA may recruit only individuals who are 18 years old and above as armed fighters for its combat units.

Section 4 of the same article, in the meantime, confirmed amendments to Article 1 of the Basic Rules of the NPA as amended by the Memorandum of October 1999 of the Executive Committee of the CPP's Central Committee.

Article 1 of the Basic Rules was replaced, the NDFP said, to clarify commitments of the NPA "and to avoid any misinterpretation."

The amended text now reads "Point 1. Any person, who is at least 18 years of age and is physically and mentally fit, regardless of sex, race, nationality ore religion, has the capacity to fight and is ready to participate in armed struggle against the reactionary power, may become a combatant or a member of a fighting unit of the NPA.

"Any person, not less than 15 YEARS OF AGE, may be admitted as a trainee of apprentice of the NPA and may be assigned to self-defense and other non-combat units and tasks.

"The restriction on youth or children below the age of 18 years does not forfeit the primordial right to self-defense in the face of clear and imminent threat to life.

"In the event of enemy aggression against or encroachment on the territory of the people's democratic government, all persons above 15 YEARS OF AGE may be mobilized for self defense, provided that priority among those below 18 years of age but more than 15 YEARS OF AGE shall be given to the eldest ones in the distributions of weapons of self-defense."

Article IV is titled "Critique of the Optional Protocol in the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the so-called Paris Principles."

It is the declaration's Article V that contains the meat of the declaration. In it, the NDFP said that it, the CPP and the NPA, and their organs of political power will ensure that children under 18 will be either at home or under the care of their parents; or in school, or at work if they are permitted to do so under the statutes and conditions of the International Labor Organization.

Finally, Article VI is a declaration on "NDFP Cooperation with Foreign or International Entities with Regards to Children."

Social issues and crimes against children

NDFP's peace panelist Ledesma said with the new declaration, the NDFP makes it known to the Filipino people and the rest of the world that it it will take all necessary measures to help parents and schools in the education of children.

"The NDFP will also take action against child labor, child prostitution, pornography, drug exploitation and trafficking. Through its program for children, NDFP forces and units will encourage and help street children to return to school or find refuge in the situation that they cannot be with their parents," she said.

The sorry state of Philippine public school education is also attacked in the declaration as the NDFP said it will push to educate children on the Filipino people's revolutionary history and the problems that beset the country.

"The NDFP ... will organize children and mobilize them in civic, cultural and other social activities for their benefit and for the benefit of the people," it said.

The natural disasters and calamities that regularly befall the country also did not escape the attention of the NDFP. It said that children should learn to conduct themselves in times of natural disasters, military attacks and other emergencies.

In a controversial move, the revolutionary front issued its position on the right of children to defend themselves in times of armed attack.

Section 6 of the new declaration states that in situations when the military, police and paramilitary forces attack their communities and homes, children have the right to join their elders in launching united defense to save themselves.

The succeeding section gave support to the preceding one. In it, the NDFP said that children falsely accused of being child soldiers should be spoken for by their parents, guardians, teachers, leaders of the local community. The NDFP said it will seek the help of these individuals, including organizations championing human rights and civic and religious groups in asserting on behalf of accused children. At the same time, the NDFP said it will also continue to document and investigate rights violations against children by the GPH and its armed forces.

In a video recorded message, the spokesperson of the NDFP North Eastern Mindanao Region Maria Malaya said that in the region under the authority of the revolutionary organizations, literacy schools have been built, providing children with education and skills for development.

"In one NPA consolidated area of 21 lumad communities with a population of 7,000, all school-aged children receive basic education and a majority are able to go to high school. These high school graduates go back and serve in their communities and further develop education and health of the children in the communities," she said.

Malaya said in base areas, there are sports and cultural development for children and health management system has been set-up.

Special Office for Children's Protection

To strengthen its mechanisms on monitoring and defending the rights of Filipino children, the NDFP said it will establish a Special Office for the Protection of Children. This will be placed under the front's Human Rights Committee.

Among its main functions are to oversee the implementation of the Program of Action by all of the NDFP's organizations including the NPA; report the achievements of the NPA in upholding the rights of children; receive complaints of violations of children's rights and refer them for appropriate action; and organize educational programs within all of the NDFP's organizations while at the same time encouraging the creation of child protection units in the mass organizations.

Jalandoni said the NDFP Negotiating Panel in the peace negotiations with the GPH will be directed to present to its counterpart panel a draft additional to the CARHRIHL that will further elaborate on its Section 10.

The addition will focus on the protection of minors from adverse affects of the armed conflict and against specific violations of the rights of children.

He also said the NDFP panel will also be further directed to demand and work for the inclusion of a provision to comprehensively uphold the rights of children, guarantee proper care and education and prohibit the exploitation of child labor in the prospective Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser).

The Paris Principles and inaccuracies in definitions

In the meantime, the declaration also included a stinging critique of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Paris Principles, as well as a pointed reprimand against the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict (UNSG SRCAC).

In its critique of the Paris Principles, the NDFP said that in the declaration's Section 1, the protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict contains vague terms, especially with regards the categorization of child soldiers, giving the military forces the license to mislabel children as child soldiers and violate their rights.

The Paris Principles sets the minimum age of recruitment and participation in hostilities at 18 years old. It prohibits "armed groups" that are distinct from the armed forces of the state from recruiting and using minors in hostilities under any circumstances. At the same time, however, it allows schools operated by states or under their police and military forces to train minors (persons below 18 years old).

The NDFP has long stated its objection to what it said was the Paris Principles' clear bias against national liberation movements. It said the bias is a violation of international conventions and customary laws that recognize the right of oppressed nations to struggle for self-determination and establish organs of political power.

"The so-called Paris Principles are prejudicial to liberation movements. These practically require children to be physically and even permanently separated from parents, families and the communities, which may or may come under indiscriminate sustained and vicious attacks from the armed forces," Jalandoni said.

The revolutionary leader said that by giving a misleading and inaccurate definition of child soldiers, the Paris Principles have, in effect, put children at increased risk.

He said as the military, police and paramilitary forces and other agencies accuse children falsely as child soldiers, children are made out to be legitimate military targets to abuse, apprehension or are separated from their parents and be subjected to detention, involuntary servitude and even sexual abuse.

Cases of using the Paris Principles to justify violations against children have been mounting.
Thus, child rights advocates have likewise been calling for its review.

The appendices in the NDFP's new book, in the meantime, include 94 cases of HR and IHL violations involving children and minors based on complaints filed with the JMC against the GPH and its armed forces. The said cases were also submitted to Unicef-Philippines for the latter agency's Periodic Global Horizontal Note. The dates covered by the cases were from 2002 to 2011, and the children-victims were subjected to various HR and IHL violations such as threat/harassment/intimidation; forced labor, use as a guide/shield in military operations, torture; illegal arrest and detention; recruitment and use as a military asset and informer; frustrated killing or maiming; sexual molestation; and multiple killing.
The UN's failure

On the other hand, even as the NDFP officials expressed appreciation for the efforts of the United Nations Children Fund, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Education (UNESCO) and other UN agencies in investigating and reporting cases involving children affected by armed conflict, it said the UNSG SRCAC continues to make "baseless and unwarranted vilification" and listing of the NDFP's armed wing the New People's Army (NPA) as child violators.

In a previous presentation earlier in July, the NDFP's Chief Political Consultant Jose Ma. Sison slammed the UN, saying that the institution is guilty of ignoring existing material and submissions exposing the increasing number of human rights violations being perpetrated against children.

"The UN has done nothing to investigate the cases and charges against the AFP. It has done nothing about the growing number of children being killed. So many reports have come out about schools in the provinces being converted into barracks. Also, the UN has so far ignored reports of the AFP recruiting and training minors. There have been documented cases of the military taking children into the camps to work as camp orderlies and camp prostitutes," he said.

The NDFP continues to demand that the UN office remove the NPA from the list of child violators and withdraw all its reports,which, the NDFP said, falsely accuses the NPA of recruiting and using child soldiers. Then and only then, the NDFP said, can positive and productive relations can be established between the front and the said UN office.

Jan Fermon, professor of law at the University of Maastricht and a member of the International Legal Advisory Team who helped in the drafting of the Declaration, explained that the UN has no formal mechanism where the allegations can be reported and discussed.

"So long as the UN RG will not take the time to study the materials already on the table, nothing will happen. The UNICEF's own report 'Uncounted Lives: Children, Women and Conflict in the Philippines' is being ignored. There is a genuine problem on the lack of sincerity to address the reports and initiate a serious dialogue and look seriously into the situation in the field. False allegations are reported as truth again and again," he said.