DAVAO CITY – The chairman of the House committee on human rights said he wants to amend a law protecting children after listening to testimonies of educators who alleged they were harassed by the soldiers camping in the schools.

Surigao Rep. Guillermo Romarate Jr, committee chairman, described the alleged encampment of Army men in lumad schools as “gross and wanton violation of this law (Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act ).”

“I have also experienced this in the old PC (Philippine Constabulary) would live in (our school’s) economic building. They were permitted (by the school administrators) because there was no insurgency,” he said.

Romarate said he believes “this is why the law (RA 7610) was created, to protect the children.”

“We (committee) won’t agree on this (act). Why are they using your schools as temporary camps?” asked Romarate to Ronnie Garcia, a school administrator of lumad-owned schools by Salugpungan Ta Ta’nu Igkanugon Learning Center (STTILCI).

Garcia was one of the witnesses to a public hearing by the committee as part of several resolutions to investigate human rights cases.

Garcia narrated how a military unit forced their way into one of their schools in Compostela Valley.

“The Army men entered the school grounds at night and aimed their flashlight to the face to the teacher in-charge.

They camped under our classrooms and refused to leave, they left later only to return,” said Garcia.

Garcia cited a Department of Education memorandum which he said “granted entry to the Army to schools.”

Romarate said “the memorandum is a violation from the very beginning, the memorandum is not over the law.”

Later, Romarate read a portion of RA 7610 and found “the law is only applicable to public schools, but nevertheless it should apply to all educational institutions.”

Romarate told other members of the committee that they should “amend the law to include private schools.”

The human rights committee had in line 17 human rights cases from 12 resolutions filed by mostly members of the congress’ Makabayan bloc of partylist legislators.

Among the prominent cases include the incident between lumads and the police in the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, the evacuation of the Manobos of Talaingod, the killing of Italian priesto Fr. Fausto Tentorio and the Paquibato “massacre.”

The committee will also hear the side of the Army and other government agencies pointed in the cases Friday. (davaotoday.com)

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