The 13-year-old wounded boy, Jonas, (not his real name) who is still recuperating at the Davao Regional Hospital in Tagum City is now “heavily guarded” by military men of the 10th Infantry Division, Philippine Army. Hanimay Suazo, secretary general of human rights group, Karapatan, told Davao Today in a text message that the family of the victim is insulted and feel harassed by this act of the military.
By JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
Davao City, Philippines— Threats hound the family of Roque Antivo, the eight-year-old boy who was reportedly killed by government troops in a strafing incident in Crossing Kidaraan, Brgy. Anitapan, Mabini, Compostela Valley on April 3.
His family had to transfer the wake of their son from their house to another area for fear of soldiers who are still present in their community.
Most of the residents in Crossing Kidaraan have also temporarily left the area fearing the same, saying “they will have more peace of mind helping the family tend to the boy’s wake.”
Meanwhile, the 13-year-old wounded boy, Jonas, (not his real name) who is still recuperating at the Davao Regional Hospital in Tagum City is now “heavily guarded” by military men of the 10th Infantry Division, Philippine Army.
Hanimay Suazo, secretary general of human rights group, Karapatan Southern Mindanao, told Davao Today in a text message that the family of the victim is insulted and feel harassed by this act of the military.
The boy was captured in a video footage by local television news, TV Patrol, earlier citing that soldiers in uniform shot at them.
The military men who fired at the boys were identified to be under the Alpha Company of the 71st Infantry Battalion Philippine Army.
The boy’s stepfather, Sonny Cortes, in an interview had said he recognized one of the officers who are responsible of the murder to be a certain 2nd Lt. Llorca of the 71st IB.
Soldiers still in the area
Earlier, on-site investigation led by human rights group Karapatan joined by residents and local officials was also halted by military men from the said battalion.
Helen Ballos, Provincial Community Relations Officer of Compostela Valley who was with the group was surprised why soldiers were still present in the vicinity when they came to the area.
“In our survey of the area, there was this person who blocked us and told us that his “kauban” (comrades) were still in the area of the incident. So the decision was not to proceed because it is dangerous as the forces of Lt. Llorca were still present,” Ballos said.
Ballos said Governor Arturo Uy has already ordered the troops to move out immediately.
“In our discussion with the governor, he made the decision to move the forces here ASAP. I was also wondering if they followed the order but I saw it for myself that they were still here,” she said.
Ballos said she will immediately update the governor so that he can take appropriate actions.
The military has insisted that what happened in Crossing Kidaraan on April 3 was a “legitimate encounter.”
A targeted killing
The Children’s Rehabilitation Center based in Davao City condemns the incident as yet another gruesome act of the military.
Rius Valle, spokesperson of the CRC pointed out that it was clearly a targeted killing.
“Sa saysay sa mga testigo, gitirohan gyud sila. Kabalo nga mga bata sila ug dili sila mga NPA. Walay gyuy nibalos og pabuto, ang buto, sumala nila gikan lang gyud sa mga sundalo. Pito ka boto, (By the accounts of the witnesses, the kids were targeted. The soldiers knew they were children and not NPAs. There was no exchange of gunfire, they said the shots came from the soldiers. There were seven shots,” said Valle.
He said based on accounts of testimonies, they have reasons to believe that the military’s firing at the kids “could be intentional.”
CRC calls on the government to pull-out the soldiers from Mabini and prosecute the troops responsible for the shooting on the children.
Valle said the eight-year-old Roque is the second child killed by the 71st IB.
He recalled that a nine-year-old girl, Sunshine Jabinez, also suffered the same fate in the hands of the 71st Battalion members of the Philippine Army in Pantukan, Compostela Valley in 2010.
The national labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno condemned the incident, saying the military continues to commit grave human-rights violations in implementing the Aquino government’s counter-insurgency plan.
“We condemn the killing of Roque Antivo and we are calling for justice over his death. Despite its rhetoric of upholding human rights, the military continues to commit the worst forms of human-rights violations and to victimize children,” said Elmer Labog, KMU chairperson.
According to Labog, the culpability of the the 71st IB for this incident shows the continuity in the brutal policies of the Arroyo and Aquino governments. “The notorious general Jovito Palparan may be in hiding, but the fascist mindset which he represents is still entrenched in the military,” Labog added.
Labog said the human rights violations such as the killing of Roque Antivo stem from the Aquino government’s Oplan Bayanihan and its mindset in handling the insurgency in the country.
Based on CRC Davao’s records, 15 children have been killed by under the Armed Forces’ internal security plan Oplan Bayanihan, since 2010, including two sons of Juvy Capion, a Blaan anti-mining leader in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur who were strafed to death last October.
“The killing of children and civilians is a violation of the international humanitarian law which pertains to the conduct of armed conflicts,” he added.
The labor center condemned the Aquino government for ”refusing to implement socio-economic reforms that will solve widespread poverty and hunger, the root causes of the insurgency in the country.”
“Instead of addressing the root causes of the insurgency, the Aquino government continues to use an iron fist against insurgents, to the detriment of civilians and children. Instead of pursuing the peace talks in earnest, it is scuttling the peace talks through various tactics,” Labog said.
The Aquino government’s peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines has reached an impasse in 2011 following arrests of NDF consultants who were covered by immunity guarantees signed by the parties.
‘Children butchers and weaklings’
Meanwhile, the New People’s Army (NPA) called the 71st IB soldiers “children butchers” and “weaklings who can only engage war against children.”
In an emailed statement signed by Daniel Ibarra, spokesperson of the NPA Comval –Davao Gulf Sub-Regional Command, they said that the AFP “twisted the facts to save face” and made it appear that the children were victims of crossfire.
According to Ibarra, more than an hour before the strafing incident, at 4:30 pm, the front guerilla unit of Guerilla Front 2 under the said Command “punished the abusive 2nd Scout Rangers Battalion of the 10th ID in an ambush” which killed two military men.
The said encounter, he added, took place in Candinuyan, a village 15 kilometers away from where the strafing of the boys took place.
According to the NPA, such action was part of their “active defensive campaign” directed agains the Special Operations Team and combat forces of the 10th ID in in Mabini-Pantukan-Maco range cluster that it said are among the AFP’s priority areas under the Oplan Bayanihan.
“To insinuate that these NPA operations directly or indirectly killed the child Antivo is the height of gross dishonesty and cowardice,” Ibarra said. (John Rizle L. Saligumba, davaotoday.com)