By Hannah Torregoza
Neophyte Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa on Wednesday vowed to clamp down on all leftist groups recruiting minors to become its members and fighters.
Dela Rosa, a former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, made this assurance after hearing the sad tale of the parents whose children have been reported missing after allegedly joining organizations that supposedly have links to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army (CPP-NPA) while in school.
“This is very alarming for me. That is why I support proposals for the PNP to intensify their regular visits in all schools and universities,” deela Rosa said in an interview after the hearing.
Dela Rosa, who now chairs the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, held his first public hearing, tackling the case of the missing minors who were allegedly recruited by leftist groups.
The senator said it was imperative “to know the real score” in order to ferret out the truth and, in the end, recommendations would be drafted to ensure “peace in the country, as well as protect and preserve the welfare of our children.”
Officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), PNP, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and other government agencies were present during the hearing. Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) president Emmanuel de Guzman also attended the hearing.
However, leftist groups invited by the committee did not attend the probe. These include Kabataan Party list Rep. Sarah Jane Elago, Kabataan Party List Secretary General Ayna Punzalan, League of Filipino Students (LFS) Chairperson Gemma Canalig and members and officials of Anakbayan.
“We can only go as far as sending invitations, but if they don’t want to come, we respect the interparliamentary protocols. But we are giving them the chance to explain not only to us but to the parents and to the whole Filipino people kung ano ba talaga ang kanilang organisasyon para malaman ng taumbayan kung ang kanila bang organisasyon ay hindi nagsu-supply ng fighters sa NPA (what their organization is all about, so that the people would know whether or not their organization is not supplying fighters for the NPA),” dela Rosa pointed out.
“It’s about time—through this hearing—to share the predicament of the parents who are experiencing so much frustration (over their children). It’s about time,” he reiterated.
“There’s no other job more challenging than being a parent. We are the mentor, disciplinarian and our children’s ultimate succor. We raise our kids, nurture them and slowly let them go into the world, trusting they will make good decisions and they will be guided by what we impart and live by,” Dela Rosa pointed out.
“But the world is full of deceit and pure evil. They prey on the idealism of our young children. And they are made to believe government is inutile and the only way to rectify is to join the armed struggle,” he said.
“We send our children to school… then we learn they are no longer in school. Nobody knows where they are until a letter comes or a phone call or worse a coffin arrives,” he lamented.
Battle for the hearts and minds
Dela Rosa said data from the AFP shows that the number of neutralized child victims of the CPP-NPA recruitment from 1999 to July 2019 totaled 513 – 362 of these surrendered, 134 were apprehended or captured, and 17 were killed in encounters.
Of the five parents who testified before the committee, only one parent sad they were able to get back her child from Anakbayan. Gemma Labsan, a resident of Quezon City, said her daughter Ghemarie, 16, student at the University of the East (UE) was no longer her usual sweet, quiet self. She has started to become argumentative and would fight with her parents over social issues.
According to Labsan, she and her husband tried to pull their daughter away from the group when they saw her join the protest rally outside Batasan Complex during President Rodrigo Duterte’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 22. But her daughter’s behavior and attitude seemed to have worsened, and they fear she would leave their house again without any word.
Jovita Antoniano, 46, mother of five children, told Senate probers her eldest daughter Trisha, a Grade 11 student at the PUP Sta. Mesa, was a smart and obedient child and active in campus journalism prior to being recruited by the LFS and Anakbayan.
She and her husband have lost communication with their daughter for a year now. The last time they saw her was in May 7 when she went home. Her husband lamented that their situation was far worse than the parents of those who were killed in the Duterte administration’s drug war.
“Mabuti pa yugn mga nag do droga nakikita pa, sila (mga anak namin) hindi namin alam kung nasaan na,” Antoniano told the panel.
Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on national defense and security, called out PUP and reminded them of schools’ special parental authority and responsibility as parent substitute under the country’s Family Code.
“This is internal security and law enforcement problem. Balik tayo sa battle for the hearts and minds,” Lacson pointed out.
“Ang point ko lang, magkaroon tayo ng proactive move para matigilan ang ultimate objective ng nagre-recruit na isali sa NPA,” he stressed.
In the case of Labsan’s daughter, Lacson said he believes government intervention was needed to reverse the radicalization and indoctrination process that was done to her child.
“Government assistance ang kailangan na…That is where government intervention is needed. We have experts who can handle the situation. May mas nakakaalam paano,” Lacson said.
Sen. Francis Tolentino, for his part, urged the administration of universities to issue a resolution, apologizing to the parents involved since the significant changes to the minors involved –emotionally and mentally—occurred and were observed while the students were enrolled in their universities.
Tolentino also suggested that policemen be allowed to enter campuses to monitor and observe school activities during weekends.
A matter which Dela Rosa said he fully supports: “I don’t care (if they complain that it will only agitate students).
Kasi kung palagi na lang tayo takot na ma agitate, wala na mangyayari sa gobyerno na ito. Palagi na lang takot ang gobyerno.”
“Dapat the government should have the bayag (balls) , have the political will to do what is supposed to be done to ensure na ang mga bata na ito ay makapag-aral at makapagtapos because ang mga parents ito pinadala sila diyan para mag-aral hindi para maging komunista (That these children will study and finish their studies because the parents sent their children to school to study, not to be a communist),” the former PNP chief said.
“Alam niyo mahirap talaga ma-reverse yan kung talagang malalim na ang brainwashing na natanggap ng isang bata. Ang pinakamaganda sana dyan prevention, sana ma-prevent yan (It’s really hard to reverse especially if they were brainwashed too deeply, a child cannot accept that. The best way really is prevention. I hope that can be prevented), not only by the parents but also by the school officials,” dela Rosa said.