Tuesday, December 21, 2010

SPECIAL REPORT: Grave violations on children during armed-conflict in EV continues


AMID the existence of an international humanitarian law that supposedly protect the minors in armed-conflict situations, still, grave violations against children continue to be committed in the Eastern Visayas.

In this part of the region, number of civilians killed and displaced, mostly minors continue to increase due to rebels’ attacks or clashes with the government forces. With or without a truce, government soldiers and the rebels conducted its own offensives operations that, most of the time, resulted to the killings of civilians.

Three days ago, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA) had their “biggest offensive” against the State by mercilessly killings ten (10) soldiers, including a 9-year old boy caught in crossfire in the boundary of barangays Sta. Fe and Perez, in Las Navas, Northern Samar around 3 p.m. of December 14, this year.

In Leyte, nine hours later, the troops belong to the 19th IB on board two vehicles were also ambushed in Brgy. Candigahob, Carigara, Leyte around 9 p.m. The army reported to one was hurt in the incident.

Last December 8, 2010, two civilians, one of them is a 15-year old boy, were also killed when the NPA ambushed a government troops in a river also in Las Navas town.

On August 21, also this year, eight (8) police officers were ambushed and one civilian was killed by the people’s army in Brgy. Imelda, Catarman, N. Samar.

Various human rights organizations in Northern Samar has reportedly condemned this recent incidents appealing to the public to translate its silence to a very loud voice of support to the heroism of the fallen soldiers and all of the victims of the NPA human rights violations.

Ms. Letecia Corillo, Director of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Eastern Visayas have condemned the recent armed clash in Northern Samar that took the lives of many innocent minors.

She expressed that taking in consideration the CARHRIHL, saying the civilians should not become the victims of armed attacks and in case it happened especially to minors during a crossfire or armed conflict, the DSWD must be told about the same.

Citing Article X Section 22 of Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, Corillo said that the children are considered as “zones of peace.”

In order to protect children as “zones of peace,” the State and all other sectors should take the responsibility to bring to peace the armed conflicts or violent activities. So, any rebellious attack should not make children their target and they should be given due respect.

Peace talks imperil

The military leadership in EV said the attack only shows that the CPP-NPA-NDF’s demand for a peace talk is not sincere but “a mere ploy to advance their offensive.”

The Army’s 8th Infantry Division chief Major General Mario Chan says, “The troops were on their way to barracks to observe the government’s declaration of suspension of military operations (SOMO) for the Yuletide seasons and to give way to the desire of the NDF for peace talk.”

“These soldiers died a glorious death for God, country and people. They fought it out to the last and they have won over evil. They have won in protecting you (the people) … for you to continue enjoying the fruits of democracy and freedom,” general Chan said.

The 8ID chief called upon the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) that monitors the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), to look into the incident and let the culprits be charged with the full force of the law as deemed necessary to include other CARHRIHL violations of the CPP-NPA-NDF.

“The International Humanitarian Law which was both signed by the NDFP and our government is totally abused and disrespected. Serious violation of our people’s rights is deemed condemnable in the strongest possible terms,” declares General Chan.

An expert from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the protection of civilians during conflict is a paramount responsibility of all armed groups and military.
“Civilians must be protected at all times,” said Keiichiro Okimoto of ICRC Jerusalem adding that any military attack must be “proportional,” and, whether offensive or defensive, should “not cause excessive injury to civilians, civilian death or damage to civilian objects,” he said.

Also, a weapon that is indiscriminate by nature, and cannot differentiate between a civilian and military target, is illegal. If there is ever doubt as to whether an object is civilian or military, the armed force should assume it is civilian, according to the Geneva Conventions - maybe the most important part of humanitarian law. Effective advanced warning must be given to a civilian population if an attack is about to commence.

Doctors, ambulance drivers and other medical personnel also have a special status under the law and can at no time be attacked, especially if they have the distinctive Red Cross or Red Crescent emblems. Similarly, it is illegal for armed groups to misuse the logos.

The CPP, however, declared there was neither treachery nor violations of the 19-day ceasefire declared by CPP-NDF during their successful twin ambush to the government troops. “(We) fully support the ceasefire and the NPA ambush was carried out according to international rules of war,” the CPP said in their Dec. 17 statement.

“The NPA unit legitimately and responsibly employed command-detonated explosives, as opposed to pressure-triggered land mines, to subjugate the AFP unit, in consonance with the Ottawa Treaty and other international treaties concerning the conduct of war,” the statement added.

The CPP said further that the 803rd Brigade deployed troops in the area precisely to give battle to the NPA. With the support of the people, mastery of the terrain and superior knowledge of guerrilla tactics, the NPA unit was easily able to subdue the operating enemy troops killing ten soldiers and bringing along with them high-powered firearms of the soldiers.

The Philippine government, however, repulsed on December 18, the CPP-NPA’s statement that the ambush in Northern Samar that killed 10 soldiers and a nine-year-old boy was a ‘legitimate act of war.’

“They said it’s a legitimate act of war. We certainly disagree,” Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said as she underscored that it was an uncompassionate move considering that lives were lost.

“And that there will be families who will not be spending Christmas with their loved ones because of the attack,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Valte said in a media interview.

The Deputy Presidential Spokesperson, however, deferred comment when asked if the government is willing to ask the rebels to surrender their members who instigated the ambush, saying that Malacañang will leave the matter to the government peace panel.

Meanwhile, members of the government peace panel and national defense officials made an emotional visit to Northern Samar last Friday, where they flew in to honor the 10 soldiers who were killed in a treacherous attack by the NPA just 33 hours away from the observance of the Yuletide ceasefire.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Secretary Teresita Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP), lawyer Alexander Padilla, the chief negotiator of the GRP peace panel, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo A. David, Jr. and Army commanding general, Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz personally condoled with families of the fallen troops.

Meanwhile, attempts at peace talks between the government and the CPP-NDF (an umbrella group that represents 14 communist guerrilla groups in political talks) collapsed in September last year after the government refused to meet the communist rebels’ demand to free several communist guerilla leaders from prison. 

Despite the failures of the peace talks, positive steps for disarmament were taken as a result of the Social Integration Program (SIP) that was introduced by the Arroyo government in 2008. The SIP, which provides support for rebels willing to surrender, has proven to be largely successful, with nearly 600 NPA rebels in 2009 alone.

Both the military and the rebels claimed to enjoy the support of the masses. But in the end, it is the masses who suffered much with their encounters and exchange of fires. (Ricky J. Bautista)

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