Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has denounced the New People’s Army (NPA) for allegedly recruiting children in its armed struggle which often leads to the death of minors.
“Bilang isang ama, nalulungkot akong makitang humantong sa kamatayan ng mga bata ang pangyayaring ito. Ano man ang ipinaglalaban, hindi dapat inilalagay sa panganib ang mga bata (As a father, I am saddened to witness the deaths of these children. Whatever ause you are fighting for, the children’s lives should not be placed in peril),” Lorenzana, a father of four, said on Friday, June 18.
The Defense Chief issued the remark after three suspected communist rebels — including a minor — were killed in a series of encounter with elite Army troopers near the boundary of Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur last June 14.
The fatalities were identified as Willy Rodriguez, 20; Lenie Rivas, 38; and a 12-year-old girl.
According to the military, elements of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion encountered around 20 armed men while they were conducting security operations in Sitio, Tibog, Mabuhay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.
The firefight resulted in the killing of the three suspects, who were alleged to be members of the Sub-Regional Sentro de Grabidad Southland, North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee.
However, militant group Anakbayan said the slain individuals were Lumad indigenous people and not communist rebels. It said the slain individuals were just harvesting abaca when the military opened fire at them.
The group said Rivas was a member of the Lumad organization Malahutayong Pakibigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU) while the young girl was a Grade 6 student of a Lumad school Trial Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS).
Lorenzana appeared to reject the claim of Anakbayan as he questioned the intent of the NPA in recruiting minor combatants.
“Ang tanong ko: bakit patuloy na nire-recruit ng mga NPA sa kanilang hanay ang mga bata sa kanilang pakikipagtunggali sa ating mga sundalo? (My question is: Why is the NPA continuously recruiting children in fighting against our soldiers?),” he asked.
“Hindi ito katanggap-tanggap (This is unacceptable),” he added.
Data from the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) revealed that 12.3 percent of the 1,691 former rebels that they profiled from 2016 to 2020 were minors.
It was further found in the former rebels’ profiles that the average age of minors recruited by the NPA is 17, the youngest of whom was only 12 years old.
Lt. Gen. Greg Almerol, commander of EastMinCom, said child recruitment has been an “old trick” of the NPA “to tag their members as ordinary civilians especially if the casualty happens to be a minor.”
Almerol said the Command was preparing pertinent documents to file charges against the leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPPA) and the NPA for violating the provision of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) which prohibits the use of children in armed conflict.