By Collette Kuizon
DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Child-rights groups in Mindanao are worried that the Human Security Act (HSA), the Philippines’s anti-terrorism law that is the subject of intense criticism, will make children more vulnerable to harassment and violence.
Both the Kabiba Center for Children’s Concerns and the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) in Mindanao are concerned over the cases of harassment, illegal arrest, detention, torture and other forms of violence, which they expect to increase with the implementation of HSA, and how these affect children.
John Birondo, spokesman of the CRC in Mindanao, said the HSA would legitimize militarization and human-rights abuses already happening in the countryside, where 70 percent of the country’s children live.
The groups pointed out the killing of nine-year-old Grecil Buya of New Bataan, Compostela Valley, as a “glaring” example of violence brought about by increased military presence in remote communities. On March 31 this year, the young girl was on her way to take a bath in a creek near their house when members of the 1001st Infantry Brigade arrived in pursuit of Communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels. The body of the girl, whom the military initially tagged as an NPA child combatant, was later recovered with gunshot wounds in the head.
The military initially claimed that Grecil was an NPA child-soldier and was caught in the act of firing an M16 rifle at them. The claim was retracted following statements from the community that the girl was studying in the town’s elementary school and was not an NPA at all. According to the child’s parents, it was not possible for a child as small as Grecil to carry a firearm as long and as heavy as an M16.
If abuses such as what befell Grecil were widespread even before the HSA, how much more after HSA is implemented, Birondo asked.
Honey May Suazo, spokesperson for Kabiba, said the government has been prioritizing the anti-terror drive over children’s concerns. “Instead of addressing hunger, education, shelter, safety and other basic needs, the children are presented with a law that stifles civil liberties,” she said.
Lawyer Lilibeth Ladaga, secretary general of the Union of People’s Lawyers (UPLM)-Davao city chapter, said that HSA’s definition of terrorism is vague and could lead to random arrests of anybody that the Arroyo regime regards as a threat. Under the HSA, warrants of arrests are optional, Ladaga said in a recent forum on the law in Davao city.
Suazo said the HSA would only legitimize the intensified presence of soldiers in the countryside, resulting in the harassment of entire communities when the AFP pursues persons and organizations suspected as terrorists.
In areas where Communists are believed to operate, the military restricts the movement of people and limits the entry of food supplies, depriving children of food, the group said. The health and physical development of children are likewise affected, Suazo said.
There would be constant disruptions in the lives of children because of HSA, Suazon pointed out. “Even in places where there is no actual fighting, classrooms are oftentimes transformed into evacuation centers, disrupting school classes. Children bear the trauma when their parents are illegally arrested and detained, or, in worst cases, killed. They’re forced to quit school to earn a living,” she added. (Collette Kuizon/davaotoday.com)Terrorism