At first glance, they looked like ordinary children. But deep within them are scarred souls and lost innocence because they are children-victims of human rights violations. On December 9, they went to see the United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy to tell her their tragic stories.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Seventeen-year old Jerome (not his real name) comes from Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur. On March 23, 2007, at around 9 a.m., Jerome and his five cousins were on their way home from a nearby village when they heard gunfire. They immediately ran for cover.
When the gunfire ceased, they came out from hiding. Jerome said he saw soldiers armed with long rifles, three 6 x 6 military trucks and an armored personnel carrier. The soldiers belong to the 29th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA).
The soldiers asked Jerome and his cousins where their firearms were. All of them said they did not have any gun. The soldiers told them, “Hindi, mga NPA talaga kayo.” (No. You are really members of the New People’s Army.)
Jerome related, “Natatakot ako, umiiyak ako.” (I was so afraid; I was crying.)
He said the soldiers repeatedly asked them questions like: “How long have you been in the service as NPA fighters?” “Who are your companions?” “What are the names of your comrades?”
Jerome said they insisted that they are not members of the NPA. The boy explained to the soldiers that he was just helping his parents in the field.
Jerome quit school after finishing Grade 3 to help in the farm.
Jerome and his cousins, all of whom are minors except one, were brought to the headquarters of the 29th IB and detained there for almost two weeks.
Children join the protest commemorating the International Human Rights Day in Manila. (Photo by Angie de Lara)
The children’s families only learned about their arrest when notified by a tricycle driver. Their parents immediately went to the military camp but the children were not released to them. Jerome said his mother was crying while pleading for his release but the soldiers refused to set him free.
On March 27, five of the children, including Jerome, were presented to members of the local media in Cagayan de Oro City. They were introduced as child soldiers of the NPA. He said the soldiers placed long firearms, materials for making a land mine and medicines on the table in front of them.
Again, Jerome and the children told the media they are not child soldiers and they know nothing about the NPA.
The next day, the children were brought to Manila for a press conference.
Jerome could not identify the exact location but said he saw several policemen and members of the media. They were presented as child soldiers of the NPA who were arrested by the military.
Again, the children said they are not NPA fighters. He related that members of the media and the soldiers just laughed at them because they could not speak fluently in Tagalog.
They were released to their parents only on April 2.
Witnessing a father die
On April 29 this year, at around 10:15 p.m., Junior, 14 years old, his siblings and parents were sleeping when they were awakened by gunfire. Their house at Sitio Kahusayan, Manuel Guiangga, Tugbok District, Davao City was being strafed by bullets.
Junior’s younger sister peeked outside and, through the light generated by sparks of lightning, saw the armed men wearing Task Force Davao armbands. Elements of the Special Civilian Auxiliary Army (SCAA) under the 101st Brigade of the Philippine Army wear such bands.
After the shooting, Junior’s father was found wounded and soaked in his own blood. His mother and two sisters, four years old and eight years old, were also wounded. Junior was unhurt.
Junior said they carried their father, with the help of some neighbors, on the way to town. They walked for three hours. Junior’s father died along the way due to severe loss of blood.
The boy said that before the incident, his father, a leader of the tribal group Bagobo-Klata, refused to sell their piece of land to Apollo Quiboloy who owns the prayer mountain near their place. Junior said the village captain of Tamayong, Greg Canada, was pressuring his father to sell their land to Quiboloy.
After the incident, the villagers left the place and went to a banana plantation at the adjacent village. “Hindi na makapunta sa taniman ang mga tao, kumakain na lang ng saging.” (The people could not go to their farm, they just ate bananas.)
Since then, Junior’s family has been staying at the house of a relative.
He said all he wanted is to attain justice for the death of his father.
A victim of sexual abuse
If Junior lost his father, their home and livelihood, 15-year old Ivy lost her innocence.
Ivy came from Surigao City. On January 14 this year, Ivy went to the house of her classmate to borrow a book. She was in third year high school then.
At around 7 p.m., Ivy passed by the village’s day care center near the military camp of the 30th IBPA
Ivy related, “May humila sa braso ko, mag-uusap lang daw kami…May mahabang baril siya, natakot ako.” (Somebody grabbed my arm, he said we would just talk…He had a long firearm, I got scared.)
Ivy continued, “Dinala niya ako sa loob ng day care center, pinasok sa CR at hinawakan ang maseselang bahagi ng katawan ko.” (He took me inside the day care center, then to the comfort room where he touched my private parts.)
The young girl told the man, “Sir, maawa na po kayo sa akin. Ang bata-bata ko pa.” (Sir, have pity on me. I am still so young.)
Ivy recalled the man saying,“Wag kang mag-alala, pakakasalan kita. Magagawa ko lahat dahil sundalo ako, may baril ako, kayo wala.” (Don’t worry, I will marry you. I can do everything because I am a soldier, I have a gun while you don’t have any.)
After a while, Ivy said the man allowed her to go home. When the man saw many people outside the day care center, he grabbed Ivy again, pushed her against the wall and touched her private parts again.
Ivy went home crying. She could not sleep that night. Then, she received a text message from the soldier. She said the soldier managed to get her number from her friend.
Ivy said the soldier said, “Pumunta ka rito, uulitin natin ginawa natin kanina. Kung di ka pupunta, papatayin ko mga magulang at mga kaibigan mo.” (Come here, let us do it again. If you do not come, I will kill your parents and your friends.)
Out of fear, Ivy went back to the day care center. She was raped.
After the incident, Ivy said she cried, traumatized by what happened to her. She did not immediately tell her mother about the incident because of fear. On January 20, when her mother finally learned about the abuse, they immediately filed a rape case against Private First Class Reynaldo Pagios of the 30th IB.
When they confronted Pagios, Ivy said, the soldier had the gall to tell her, “Eh ikaw ang gumahasa sa akin.” (You were the one who raped me.)
Ivy said Pagios refused to attend the hearings.
The girl said they were also threatened by Pagios through text messages. “Pasasabugin daw bahay namin.” (He said he would bomb our house.)
Ivy said soldiers also told the public that the rape case was just a show orchestrated by the NPA to discredit the military.
“Gusto kong makita na nakakulong siya,” (I want to see him behind bars.) said Ivy of Pagios.
“Kapag nakakakita ako ng naka-unipormeng sundalo, natatakot ako. Mapagsamantala sila. Porke may mga baril sila, nagagawa nila gusto nila,” (When I see soldiers in uniform, I feel scared. They are opportunists. Just because they have guns, they do whatever they please.) Ivy said.
Being shot at
Janice, 17 years old, was with her mother when they first got caught in the middle of a military operation being conducted by the 17th IBPA on January 21, 2007 in Baggao, Cagayan Valley.
Janice related, “Sunday iyon, 1 p.m., kasama ako ng nanay ko sa taniman ng yellow corn. Hinahawan namin ang mga damo. Bandang 1:30 p.m., may narinig kaming putukan. Nagtakbuhan kami para magtago.”(It was a Sunday, 1 p.m. I was with my mother at the yellow corn plantation. We were clearing the weeds. At around 1:30 p.m., we heard gunfire. We ran for cover.)
Some 23 families in their sub-village went to the two nearby subvillages to seek refuge. After three hours, Janice and ten neighbors went back to their homes, thinking that the soldiers have left.
Janice said,“Umuwi kami para kumuha ng gamit sa school at magpakain ng alagang hayop.” (We went home to get our things for school and to feed the animals.)
While waiting for their companions, Janice said they heard gunfire. Minutes later, she felt her thigh bleeding. Her friend Katrina was also wounded.
She recalled,“Nanginginig na ako, napahandusay sa daan, punong-puno na ng dugo.” (I was shivering, I fell to the ground bleeding profusely.)
She continued, “Dinaan-daanan lang kami ng mga militar.” (The soldiers did not bother to help us.)
It was only at around 5 p.m. when neighbors managed to bring them to the nearest hospital. By 2 a.m., they were transferred to a hospital in Tuguegarao City and were confined there for three days.
Days after the incident, Janice said, she heard soldiers being interviewed over the local radio station, accusing them of being NPA fighters and threatening to file rebellion charges against them.
A community threatened
Fourteen-year old Joy had a different story. Joy comes from Sitio Bermuda, Bgy. Nabuk in Compostela Valley.
On May 2 this year, at around 10 a.m, soldiers from the 28th IBPA arrived at their sub-village. Joy was then manning the cooperative store of their community. The soldiers asked her, “May NPA bang bumibili ng softdrinks dito?” (Do NPA guerrillas buy soft drinks here?)
She replied that the last time they saw NPA fighters was a month ago. The soldiers told her, “Sinungaling ka! Kahapon lang narito sila.” (You’re a liar. They were here yesterday.)
The soldiers then asked for water. Joy replied that she would have to fetch water first. A soldier replied, “’Pag NPA humihingi, bibigyan n’yo agad.” (If the NPA ask for water, you immediately give them water.)
Joy said a resident who just bought rice for the cooperative was held by the military who accused him of giving rice to the NPA. Joy said she also saw a soldier point a gun at her nine-year-old cousin. When the boy’s mother came to get her son, the soldiers said the child is a member of the NPA. The mother asserted her right to get her son.
Joy also said that her uncle was mauled by soldiers. “Nilagyan ng cellophane at ng kaldero and ulo niya.” (The soldiers suffocated him with a plastic bag and a cooking pot.)
On May 12, the soldiers went back to the community. They warned the residents that they would be killed if they saw NPA fighters in the area.
At around 4 p.m., Joy said, they heard gunshots. Upon hearing the shots, some 58 families decided to evacuate from the place immediately.
Joy related,“Bandang 9 p.m., umalis kami sa lugar para pumunta sa Valma, 3 a.m. kami nakarating. Kahit ang mga matanda at bagong panganak, nakapaglakad dahil sa takot.” (We left our place at around 9 p.m. and arrived at Valma by 3 a.m.. Even the old and those who just gave birth were able to walk because of fear.)
They slept by the road. Hours later, they were transferred to the town’s gymnasium and stayed there for three days. Then, they transferred to Davao City, at the Bangkerohan village and stayed there for one month.
It was only by June 17 that they came back to their place. “Wala na ang mga hayop, pati mga tanim. May mga nawawalang gamit sa bahay. Sa coop, ubos ang paninda.” (All our farm animals were gone even our crops. We lost some belongings from our homes. All the items for sale at the cooperative were also gone.)
Children’s rights violations
Jerome, Junior, Ivy, Janice and Joy are but five of the 948 children victims of human rights violations under the Arroyo administration, which were monitored by the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC).
In its report, the CRC said that from 2001 to 2008, 66 children were killed, 49 were victims of frustrated killing, 50 were tortured, five were raped, four were forcibly disappeared, and 55 were illegally arrested and detained. The NGO also estimated that about two million individuals, including children have been affected by forced displacement due to armed conflict.
The CRC said the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) is the main violator of children’s rights, whether in situations of armed conflict or not.