The Philippine Army’s 53rd Infantry “Matapat” Battalion (53IB) condemns anew the New People’s Army (NPA) communist-terrorist groups’ use of child warriors after it was found out that many former NPA rebels who recently surrendered in Zamboanga Del Sur were minors when they were recruited.
53IB Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera said the NPA’s recruitment and exploitation of minors are terroristic, inhumane, and clear violations of human rights.
“Such terroristic and inhumane acts strip them [the children] of their rights incorporated in our laws,” Herrera said.
“The Battalion strongly condemns the NPA communist-terrorist groups’ recruitment and involvement of children in armed conflict because these violate the children’s human rights, the International Humanitarian Law, and Republic Act 11888 or the Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act,” Herrera said.
After diligent custodial debriefing and investigation following the recent influx of surrendering NPA rebels in Zamboanga Del Sur, at least 13 were identified as of minor ages 15 to 17 years old when they were recruited.
Alias “Sonny Boy” said he only 15 years old when recruiters promised him money in exchange for their membership to the NPA armed group.
“I wanted my family to have a better life. I joined the NPA because they said they will give us allowance regularly, but clearly, it was just a false promise,” Sonny Boy said in local dialect.
Another former rebel who recently surrendered, alias “Lindy” said she has already spent 19 years in the NPA and she was recruited when she was only 17. She testified that the recruitment process either involved exploiting the children’s false nationalism and patriotism or enticing them with a ticket out of poverty, or both.
“When I was still in the armed struggle, we preferred to recruit minors [under 18] because not only do they easily believe in our propaganda, but they also want a way out of poverty,” Lindy said in local dialect.
Numerous laws both local and international, including conventions participated by different countries, prohibit the recruitment and involvement of children in any form of armed conflict.
The Philippines’ Republic Act 9344 defines a “child” as a person under the age of eighteen (18) years.
IHL Rule 136 states: “Children must not be recruited into armed forces or armed groups.”
Article 3(a) of the 1999 Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor states that recruitment of children under 18 for use in armed conflict is one of the worst forms of child labor.
The Statute of the International Criminal Court states: “Conscripting or enlisting children” into armed forces or groups constitutes a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
Of the said 13 former NPA rebels who were recruited as minors, four have already received their benefits under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP). The rest are still processing their documents.
“They will then undergo a transformative psycho-social activity in coordination with the Provincial Social Welfare and Development (PSWDO) before receiving their benefits under E-CLIP,” Herrera said.