DAVAO CITY – In April 2007, the remote town of New Bataan in the province of Compostela Valley–some three to four hours from downtown Davao City–hogged the headlines when a nine year old girl was killed and soldiers identified her as a New Peoples Army (NPA) child combatant.
Second Lt. Francis John Gabawa, leader of a platoon under the 67th infantry battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said they shot Grecil Buya-Galacio during an encounter with the NPA near her house because the girl was aiming an M16 armalite rifle at them and that they had to do it in self-defense.
On April 2, two days after Grecil was shot, a story came out in the Philippine Star that quoted then AFP Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Obaniana saying that soldiers fired at the child because she fired first at them using an M-16 rifle and that “she was good at it.”
Grecil’s family, neighbors and classmates were appalled at the accusation. Grecil was the eldest of a brood of four and her parents depended on her for many chores around the house, including taking care of her siblings and leading their family carabao to graze. The child was also an undernourished second grader at a local school and could not have lifted–much less aimed–a six-pound rifle. The AFP later recanted their story.
In June this year, 12-year-old Idoy (not his real name) was helping relatives look for a lost carabao when soldiers saw him. They asked him to identify a man they had beaten up as an NPA member but the boy, scared as he was, said the man was a corn and livestock farmer in their village, not an NPA.
The soldiers did not release the farmer but they let Idoy go. Later, they called him back. One soldier hit his head with the butt of his armalite rifle and another put a pistol into his mouth. He was asked whether he did errands for the NPAs. He was only released later in the day when his mother and other relatives arrived. The farmer, Idoy’s neighbor, disappeared and later surfaced in a detention cell in Cagayan de Oro.
Grecil and Idoy are only two of the newest child-victims of the increased military presence in the countryside. Child-victims of military abuses reached 989 in 2007 alone, according to the reports of the children-focused Kabiba Alliance for Children’s Concerns.
The same report said this figure more than doubled to 2,443 in 2008.
As the AFP races to meet its 2010 deadline to wipe out the NPA insurgency, Kabiba expects the situation will worsen.