By CONI LEDESMA
Head, Special Office for the Protection of Children
Today, 15 years after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the Special Office for the Protection of Children (SOPC) of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) strongly condemns the continuing violation of children’s rights by the armed forces of the Government of the Philippines (GPH). These violations are the following:
The gang-rape of a 17-year old girl (whose identity has been withheld to protect her privacy) on 11 October 2012 in Rizal Province. The girl and her 13-year old cousin were invited by three soldiers, Pfc. Alexander Barsaga, Pfc. Ronnie Castro and PVT Rocky Domingo, to attend the anniversary of the 16th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. Inside the camp, the soldiers forced the two minors to eat cake and drink juice spiked with drugs that made them unconscious. The three soldiers then raped the 17-year old. When she woke up, she was feeling dizzy and her private parts were in pain.
Later, in her home, she started manifesting behavioral changes. Her relatives brought her to the hospital which confirmed that there was laceration in her genitalia, indicating she was indeed raped.
Her family filed charges of rape and child abuse against the three soldiers. The three soldiers began threatening the girl and her family, saying something bad would happen to them if they did not withdraw the charges. The family informed the battalion headquarters about the rape, but the headquarters officers did nothing to hold the soldier-rapists to account. Instead, the family met with more harassment and intimidation from the culprits.
Because they could not get justice for the girl, concerned citizens and well meaning individuals in the province of Rizal approached the revolutionary movement in Rizal. Upon their request, the prosecutors of the revolutionary movement filed charges of child abuse and gang rape against the three soldiers. The charges were filed at the People’s Court. An investigation was conducted by the people’s prosecutor and the three soldiers were formally indicted and warrants of arrest have been issued against them by the people’s court.
On 11 March 2012, six year old Rodelyn Aguirre was killed and her four year old sister was wounded by an explosion of an M79 grenade that came from a launcher belonging to the 61st Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army, who were camped in Barangay Tacayan, Tapaz, Capiz.
Fact finding missions of human rights organizations and an independent investigation by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) were conducted. Despite the strength of evidence gathered by human rights organizations, the chief of the Tapaz Philippine National Police (PNP) and officials of the Manila government’s Commission on Human Rights based in Iloilo City, denied the findings and instead, they put the blame on the New People’s Army (NPA).
On 21 December 2012, 17 year old Grego Guevarra was riding a motorcycle, together with his friend, Eliseo Lopez. They were passing through Barangay Tayuman in Aurora, Quezon when they came upon a checkpoint. The checkpoint was manned by drunken soldiers who initially allowed them to pass but decided to stop and arrest them.
They were brought to the camp of the 74th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army, in Mulanay, Quezon, together with others who were also arrested by the drunken soldiers. They were interrogated the entire night. They were blindfolded. But they kept protesting the arrest of Grego who was a minor. He and the others arrested with him were accused of illegal possession of firearms, such as machine guns, ammunition and bombs, which were obviously planted.
In the early morning of 26 December, those those arrested were brought to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology-Special Intensive Care Area (BJMP-SICA). Trumped-up criminal charges were filed against them, including Grego who is still a minor.
These three incidents are just a few cases of the continuing violations of children’s rights by the armed forces of the reactionary Manila government in the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan, the US-designed counter-insurgency plan that is aimed at rendering the revolutionary movement inconsequential by 2013.
The Special Office for the Protection of Children of the NDFP continues to monitor and document the violations of children’s rights by the GPH. At the end of the year, it will issue a report on these violations as well as the work of the Special Office and other agencies of the NDFP in protecting and promoting the rights and welfare of children.