Connie Ledesma of the NDFP urged 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 SOPC was established in October 2012 after the NDFP issued its Declaration and Program of Action for the Rights, Protection and Welfare of Children on April 24, 2012. The special office was established to strengthen its mechanisms on monitoring and defending the rights of the child. Among its main functions is to oversee the implementation of the Program of Action by all of the NDFP's organizations including the NPA; and to receive complaints of violations of children's rights and refer them for appropriate.
In a statement, the special office's chairwoman Connie Ledesma said, "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 SRCAC on the so-called recruitment and use of children by the New People's Army (NPA)."
Last month, the UN released its 2012 report on the violations committed against children. According to the report, there are 26 children who were recruited by armed groups in the Philippines. Eleven of the said 26 children were recruited by the NPA, the rest were recruited by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The NPA, ASG and the MILF are also cited in the report as "persistent perpetrators" of the use of children in armed conflict.
"The Abu Sayyaf, NPA and MILF continue to be cited in the UN blacklist of parties that recruit or use children, kill or maim children, commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, or engage in attacks on schools or hospitals in situations of armed conflict," the report said.
Ledesma belied the UN report saying that the allegations of the UN SRCAC are baseless. "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."
She said that "those claimed to be child soldiers are civilians whom the AFP had illegally arrested, detained and tortured or killed during military operations under what the Manila government calls 'peace and development projects' against communities suspected of supporting or under the influence of the revolutionary movement."
Ledesma added that all of those 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."
Ledesma further said, "The AFP practice of targeting children in communities and presenting them as child soldiers was again exposed on June 23 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."
Ledesma said the policies and programs of the NDFP to protect the rights of children are clearly stated in its Declaration and Program of Action for the Rights, Protection and Welfare of Children. "This document is strictly followed by all the allied organizations of the NDFP, which include the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)."
Minimum age requirement
According to the NDFP, since 1988, the Political Bureau of the CPP's Central Committee stipulated that the NPA may only recruit persons who are 18 years old and older as armed fighters for its combat units. Furthermore, on Oct. 15, 1999 the Executive Committee of the CPP issued the "Memorandum on the Minimum Age Requirement for NPA Fighters" reaffirming the minimum age of 18 for NPA fighters. In 2002, the policy of the minimum age was reiterated at the 11th Plenum of the CPP Center Committee.
A research conducted by an independent think-tank Ibon Foundation commissioned by the Unicef showed the strict compliance of the NPA on the said minimum age requirement of 18 years old for NPA fighters. The research also showed that respondents are also well aware of the minimum age requirement for NPA fighters.
"As far as the research team saw, there is general compliance with the CPP-NPA-NDFP's minimum age requirement policy. None among the fighters in the NPA units encountered were below 18 years old even as a few currently active NPA guerrillas joined when they were between 14-17 years old (the last being a 16- and a 17-year-old in 2003)," the research read.
The research also showed that there are under-aged applicants who want to join the NPA; however, these applicants are being turned away. "There were firsthand and secondhand accounts of under-aged youth who tried to join the NPA as full-fledged combatants but who were not accepted because of their age. These emerged during the various focus group discussions and during individual interviews and can be taken as indicating efforts at strict policy implementation." The research also showed that those who violate the said policy were meted with disciplinary action.
The research entitled "Uncounted Lives: Children, Women, and Conflict in the Philippines" covered the period of 2001-2005 in eight communities where armed encounters between the military and either the NPA or MILF occurred.
Meanwhile, Ledesma urged 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 CTMFR 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," she added.
Ledesma also urged 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."