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Both AFP and rebel groups used minors in armed operations in 2012, UN says

(Updated 06/26/13 8:44 p.m.) It's not just armed rebel groups, but also the Philippine military that recruited minors for their operations in 2012, according to a new report from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The report entitled "Grave Violations Committed Against Children in 22 Situations of Concern" released last June 12 said two young boys were recruited by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to help find a New People's Army (NPA) rebel camp in Mindanao.

“[We] remained concerned over the use of children by the national armed forces as guides and informants during military operations,” said the report. "In a verified case in July 2012, the Fifty-Seventh Infantry Battalion forced two boys aged 12 and 13 years to serve as guides to locate an NPA camp in North Cotabato Province."

Reached for comment Monday, AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the reported use of children in military operations is against their policy and they would have to check the veracity of the information.

"As a matter of policy, the AFP does not use children as guides during military operations so as not to endanger them," he said. "We will verify this information if there is any truth to it."

The UN report did acknowledge that the AFP has "issued directives prohibiting such use of children, assigning responsibility to commanders, institutionalizing investigations and putting in place corrective measures.”

The two guides were among 26 children—23 boys and three girls between 12 and 17 years—who were recruited by Philippine armed groups last year, the UN report said. 

The number included two who were reportedly used by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), 11 by the New People’s Army (NPA), and 11 by the Abu Sayyaf bandit group. They were recruited in 11 separate incidents.

"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.

Schools for military use

The UN also questioned the AFP for its alleged use of schools, saying while stationing military units in schools does not directly mean recruitment, the cancellation of classes for children have an adverse effect on their education.

“In four verified incidents, the national armed forces stationed military units in public elementary schools in Mindanao. In June 2012, the country task force verified that three units of the national armed forces had established a detachment next to Salipongan Primary School in Tugaya municipality, Lanao del Sur Province, resulting in the closure of the school for two weeks,” the report said.

The UN said this has been brought to the AFP's attention and that the military is “preparing draft guidelines on the conduct of operations inside or within the immediate premises of schools and hospitals, which are expected to be launched as an operational directive during the first half of 2013."

Zagala, for his part, said, "We respect the use of these schools as instruments of learning and these should not be used by any military units for any purpose."

2012 figure lower by half

While the number remains considerably high, one positive sign is that child soldier recruitment in the Philippines has been cut by more than half from the previous year, according to the UN report.

“That figure represents a decrease in 2012, given that there were 54 incidents affecting 33 boys and 21 girls in 2011,” the report said.

However, the actual number of children soldiers in the country could be higher as the data does not include those recruited by other armed groups, such as the MILF splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“Although the United Nations has no access to the areas under the control of the BIFF, a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front led by Commander 'Kato', the country task force continued to receive credible reports that the armed group was actively training and providing weapons to children,” the report said.

Govt actions lauded

Nevertheless, the UN chief lauded several efforts by the Philippines to curb the recruitment of children soldiers in the country.

“I am pleased to note that the Government is finalizing the implementation of the monitoring, reporting and response system to prevent and respond to specific incidents of grave violations against children,” he said.

In a separate statement from the British Embassy in Manila, it lauded the country for its “significant achievement” in passing anti-torture laws.
“The Philippines has had its own history of human rights abuses.  But today as an outsider looking in, I can see that the country has made significant achievement with the recent passage of several human rights laws, inter-agency cooperation on human rights issues, and more importantly dialogues between civil society and the security services,” the embassy’s human rights officer Shane Male said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
“Because at the end of the day, human rights is really an indicator of a government’s relationship with its people,” he added. — Patricia Denise Chiu/KBK/YA, GMA News