By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. deplored anew the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) for continuing to recruit children and then training them to become combatants in the protracted guerrilla war against the government.
“The CPP-NPA is destroying the future of our children and the hope of our nation. Instead of inspiring them to be upright, peaceful and law-abiding citizens, the insurgents are molding them into child warriors with the sole purpose of fighting the government,” Galvez said in a statement sent to media entities by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).
Rescued child combatants
Galvez, a former AFP chief of staff, was reacting to news reports of a 14-year-old member of the CPP-NPA who was rescued on Feb. 27 by government troops in the hinterland village of Mt. Malindang in Misamis Occidental.
He cited a report from the Army’s 102nd Brigade, which said that the rescued lad was only 13 years old when he was recruited by the Sendong Guerrilla Front of the Western Mindanao Regional Party of the CPP-NPA.
The boy, identified only as “Bentong” in the report, appeared to have been abandoned by his comrades and lost in the jungle when he was rescued by soldiers. He is now undergoing stress debriefing from a team composed of military, police, and social welfare personnel, OPAPP said.
“By using these child-warriors to fight in their war with the government, the Reds have shown (their lack of) dignity or compassion to speak of. Imagine, these children should be holding pens and books, but instead are being trained to shoot rifles and kill people,” Galvez said.
“All they (insurgents) care about is to achieve their goal at all costs, even at the expense of the lives of innocent kids,” he said, adding that such practice run contrary to what the CPP-NPA has been harping about as “protection of human rights.”
Galvez believes that the CPP-NPA has “managed to survive due to their aggressive recruitment of young members, especially those coming from marginalized sectors and learning institutions from around the country.”
He corroborated top military officials’ warnings that the presence of such “child warriors” around Mindanao “is now a major cause for concern and must be decisively addressed.”
Maj. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal, head of the 4th Infantry Division (4ID), revealed last November that the presence of these child guerrilla fighters in Northern Mindanao and the Caraga Region has become “very alarming.”
The military learned of the CPP-NPA’s active recruitment in the such areas after guerrilla fighters “Kent” and “Bradex,” aged 19 and 23, respectively, surrendered to authorities, OPAPP quoted Gacal as saying.
Kent was injured in an armed encounter and was subsequently rescued by government troops. Bradex, for his part, recalled that he was recruited by the communist organization when he was only 12 years old and became a full-time combatant at the age of 16.