MANILA, Philippines - An international human rights organization has asked Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Jessie Dellosa to address human rights violations, starting with the banning of the use of functioning schools as military detachments.
In a letter addressed to Dellosa, the Human Rights Watch said it monitored seven cases in the Cordillera Autonomous Region and Mindanao in which the military, “in violation of Philippine and international law, had used parts of functioning schools as barracks or bases for military detachments since 2009.”
HRW, which monitors human rights developments in more than 90 countries around the world, said the use of the schools lasts for periods from three months to more than a year.
“We urge you to protect students and teachers by ordering the armed forces to respect the law and to stay out of educational facilities. Putting schools and their students in the line of fire places them at grave risk,” HRW said.
HRW also took offense to the false tagging of children as “New People’s Army child soldiers.”
It noted that that in six cases it monitored since President Benigno Aquino III took office, some were publicly called child warriors.
It said three of these cases that involved six children, indicated that their involvement were fabricated by the military.
“In each of the cases we investigated, the army paraded the children in front of the media, publicly branding them rebels. In two of the cases, the army detained the children for several days, in violation of Philippine law, before handing them over to the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development,” HRW said.
It added: “We urge you to order AFP personnel to stop this practice of falsely tagging children as leftist rebels and order an investigation into those responsible.”
It also called on Dellosa to stop the use of paramilitary forces, such as Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGUs) and Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs).
“In numerous provinces, ruling families use militia forces and local police as their private armies or the government deploys these ‘force multipliers’ to help secure business interests,” it noted.
It said the paramilitary have long been implicated in several human rights abuses such extrajudicial executions, torture, abductions, and threats against suspected leftists.
It noted that the “most egregious atrocity implicating a ruling family in recent years, the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre, was carried out by a state-backed militia consisting of government-endorsed CVO, Special CAFGU, and Police Auxiliary Unit members, as well as soldiers and police officers.”
It said that replacing professional armed forces proved to be dangerous and counterproductive.
HRW also asked the leadership of the AFP to take concrete steps in holding accountable soldiers responsible for human rights abuses.