If Duterte’s reign was a television show or movie, it would come with an X rating—evil and harmful to children.
The regime’s attacks against children have been relentless this past weeks and months. This January 30 alone, police and military forces arrested two innocents — a 1- and 2-year old—together with another minor, in a raid on the office of the Misamis Orientaly Farmers Association (MOFA). Alongside other members of the MOFA, the children were arrested and separated from their parents and guardians.
The MOFA members were jailed while the children were sent to the Region 10’s Social Welfare and Development Office. (Read related article on the crackdown in the Northern Mindanao Region.)
In other areas of Mindanao, shootings, militarization and bombings against Lumad schools are prevalent. Because of this, students—many of whom are very young children—have repeatedly evacuated and had their studies interrupted. In the cities, there have been 100 cases of drug war-related or “Tokhang” killings of minors. Around 18,000 children have been orphaned due to Tokhang killings of the parents since 2016.
Sharpening the fangs of the law
The regime is also sharpening the fangs of the law, aside from indiscriminate killings and direct attacks, to damage children.
This past weeks, Congress railroaded the bill to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from the present 15 to 12 years old. If passed, even a 12-year old can then be sentenced as a criminal and jailed.
This comes directly from Duterte, who have declared that there are scores of child criminals. He ordered former president and now House Speaker Gloria Arroyo to compel Congress to pass the bill, even though Arroyo herself sponsored, in 2006, the Republic Act No. 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, which set the MACR age at 15 years old. When Arroyo was asked why she bulldozed the bill, her only reply was, “because the president wanted it. ”The Senate is also hard-pressed to pass the bill, even though hundreds of specialists and studies have asserted that at 12 years old, children can not fully discern the consequences of their actions, and sentencing them as criminals will invariably destroy their lives. During a Senate hearing, Arroyo’s foolishness was furthered by Senate President VIcente Sotto III who said that the bill had something to do with the war against drugs. He said that since they had no capacity to file cases against heads of syndicates, they will just hold their child victims responsible.
This measure is in line with the regime’s other anti-poor and anti-people schemes which targets the victims of criminal syndicates, young and old. It has no intention of running after its leaders and other big personalities. This is not a surprise as Duterte himself is the number one protector of these syndicates.
Aside from lowering the MACR, Congress likewise railroaded a bill to impose compulsory training and fascist indoctrination of minors under the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) for grades 11 and 12. This is despite the junking of ROTC in the college level after the 2001 killing of Mark Welson Chuan, a UST student, who exposed the corruption within the program.
Imposing ROTC in high school violates even reactionary laws. One of which is the Republic Act 7610 which prohibits the use of schools and hospitals for military activities. This is also against international laws and treaties, including Rules 22-24 of the International Humanitarian Law, which prohibit militarization of schools.
Aside from imposing compulsory ROTC, the bill “Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act,” which was passed by Congress last year, is now only awaiting Duterte’s signature. The said bill is deceptive, as its sponsors claimed that it will stop rebel groups, including the revolutionary forces, from using child soldiers. In truth, this will only serve as an additional tool for the regime to file cases of using child soldiers against the leaders of communities they are occupying.
A notable incident involved the illegal arrest of Satur Ocampo and his companions when they came to the rescue of Lumad children who were being harrassed by the AFP and its paramilitaries last year in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. Ocampo and others were slapped with kidnapping charges after they rescued the students and their teachers from their school to bring them to a safer place. Ocampo et al were jailed while the children were virtually detained in the DSWD offices. The agency required the parents and guardians to present papers before they can claim the students.
The Party’s rules on children
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) belied allegations from the military, Congress and other groups that it is using children in its war, one of the reasons why the aforementioned bill was passed.
The Party, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have issued numerous documents and rules to strictly observe the rights of the child. In August 30, 1999, the Party’s Military Commission issued the document On the NPA’s Alleged Mass Recruitment of Child Guerillas, which was followed by a document from the Committee Central of the CPP on October 15, 1999 entitled Memorandum on the Minimum Age Requirement for NPA Fighters. Under said document, NPA membership is strictly set on a minimun of age. The document also put into place mechanisms on how the Party will monitor this regulation.
The NDFP also issued the Declaration and Program of Action for the Rights, Protection and Welfare of Children, wherein aside from the minimum age requirement for NPA members, it also stated that the revolutionary forces will adhere to international conventions such as the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In the said document, the NDFP ordered its committees under the organs of political power to ensure child education and health, especially those 15-years old and below. It also encouraged revolutionary mass oganizations to establish children’s organizations as a way in respecting their right to defend and advance their own rights and participate in social transformation according to their capacity. The NDFP also vowed to respect the rights of the child in accordance to the Geneva Conventions and Protocol 1.
Only a regime desperate to remain in power will vent its anger and use innocent children. All revolutionary forces champion the rights and welfare of children, and will never put them in danger.