Child rights groups expressed concern on the recruitment of minors for Barangay Defense System (BDS) in the rural areas of Southern Mindanao.
This concern was based on findings of the recently concluded International Solidarity Mission (ISM) which was simultaneously conducted in the areas of Compostela, New Bataan, and Monkayo in Compostela Valley Province; Paquibato District in Davao City; Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur; and Tampakan in South Cotabato on 15-16 May 2009. The mission was primarily designed to examine the impact of intense militarization among these conflict-affected communities.
Military troop’s encampment in schools and other public places has instilled a culture of violence and has disrupted the socio-civic activities in the communities. The creation of BDS, which the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claims to be for social and economic development in these areas was belied by the populace concerned. It has become a common pattern since the intensified implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya 2 by the 10th Infantry Division (ID) of Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) that civilians are coerced to join the BDS to augment the AFP’s counter-insurgency operations and demonize legal progressive people’s organizations in many rural communities. This undermines the constitutionally-mandated civilian supremacy over the military.
In New Bataan, Compostela Valley Province, aside from the menfolk in 15 barangays, women and children were also recruited into the BDS. Children are required to report to the BDS outpost. They are used as spies and couriers by the military. In Brgy. Kahayag, the place where Grecil Buya’s family used to live, the ISM team found out a 14 year old “Ramon” (not his real name) who was on-duty at the BDS post in front of the barangay hall. He denied any involvement with the BDS but says he reports twice-a-week for 12 hours. A squad from the 66th Infantry Batallion (IB) was also camped behind the barangay hall.
Using children BDS members against the rebels is a clear violation of children’s rights to protection and safety as stipulated in Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection to Filipino Children, in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and the UN’s Paris Principles on the recruitment of children as child soldiers.
This kind of scenario brings uncertainty and distress among children, where their basic rights to survival, protection, development, and participation are at risk.
Kabiba Alliance for Children’s Concerns and other child-focused groups that joined the ISM strongly recommend the immediate disbandment of BDS, the removal of AFP troops and their armaments inside and near the school campuses and public places with reinforced declaration from the Local Government Units (LGUs) and the Department of Education (DepEd), and the stoppage of recruiting children for paramilitary groups like the BDS.
We strongly appeal to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) through its Child Rights Center to conduct an immediate, impartial and independent investigation among this concern and other documented human rights violations.
We also strongly recommend the reorganization and further revitalization of the Local Council for the Protection of Children (LCPC) down to the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPCs) to ensure monitoring of cases on violations of children’s rights and to enhance capacity to protect and defend the children in situations of armed conflict by delivering psycho-social services.
Honey May I. Suazo
Kabiba Alliance for Children’s Concerns
Contact numbers – 222-5191/09284917899