MANILA - Lumad, Mindanao’s non-Moro indigenous peoples, make up 70 percent of the New People’s Army in troubled southern Philippines, a legislator and former soldier said yesterday.
Rep. Ashley Acedillo, who belongs with the Magdalo party-list, made the claim as he branded the evacuation of lumad from Davao del Norte and Bukidnon provinces as part of a communist grand strategy to control Mindanao’s rugged mountains.
Acedillo backed the call of North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, chair of the House Committee on Indigenous Peoples, to launch a joint probe by various committees into the lumad evacuations.
Catamco, the subject of an ethics complaint by militant Makabayan bloc solons, said she wants the committees on human rights and security included in any investigation. The Makabayan complaint stems from the violent "rescue" attempt on 700-plus lumad at the Davao City Haran mission sanctuary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).
Militants say they welcome a full-blown investigation and the chance for lumad to speak directly to legislators.
Karapatan head Tinay Palabay said a probe would allow the lumad to trace the links between militarization and attempts to exploit ancestral lands known for mineral wealth, lush soil and rich waterways.
Catamco and Acedillo, hewing to earlier claims of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the evacuation is part of the underground left’s effort to hike NPA influence among lumad.
"Seventy percent of the NPA come from the lumad," Acedillo said, the reason why they want troops out of their communities.
He claimed the alternative Salugpungan school in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, was teaching children to grow up hostile to the government. He also said the school was a recruitment center for the NPA.
"They are singing different national anthem," Acedillo said, adding that he has test papers where pro-government answers were marked wrong.
Eastern Mindanao Command head, Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, sent abs-cbnnews.com several documents and a video of a former Salugpungan student, Asenad Bago, narrating how he and other students were used as spotters for rebels. He also said they are sometimes taught how to handle firearms.
The young man is good copy for the AFP. He was once featured in a video praising Salugpungan school. He was 15 years old then. Bago, now 18, is singing a different tune.
Rights groups confirmed that he attended Salugpungan for three years as a boarding student, on the request of his family. They said Bago’s father is a recent recruit to the Alamara, pro-government’s lumad militia.
A report by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Children and armed conflict last July cited the NPA as once of four rebel groups as “persistent perpetators” in the recruitment of children.
The report said child recruitment is mostly likely underreported because communities fear reprisals.
“The United Nations verified the recruitment and use of seven boys, as young as 9 years of age, by the New People’s Army (NPA) and ASG, marking a decrease from the 20 verified cases in 2013,” said the report.
The report said rebels offered shelter, food, access to education or offering to support communities, forcing parents to send children to urban centers for their protection. Read Philippine Report on Children and Armed Conflict
Luis Jalandoni, the chief international representative of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the underground leftist alliance, accused the UN official of covering up violations of the Philippine government against children’s rights.
“The reference to parents in rural areas sending their children to urban areas is purely malicious speculation and innuendo,” Jalandoni said in a statement posted on Philippinerevolution.net
The NDF, he said, sends regular reports through its Special Office for the Protection of Children, to the UNICEF, providing documentation of these violations.
He cited Department of Education Memorandum No. 21 of December 13, 2013, which adopts AFP 2013 Letter Directive No. 25, allowing the military to conduct civil-military operations inside schools. READ NDF’s Response to UN Secretary-General on the issue of violations of children’s rights
The human rights groups Karapatan says more than 3,000 children have been affected by this practice. One video, posted on Youtube, shows teachers and village elders in a Compostela Valley school remonstrating with encamped soldiers.
TRAPPED BY CONFLICT
The UN executive himself had earlier declared, “The use of schools for military purposes puts children at risk of attack and hampers children’s right to education.”
Recruitment does not necessarily mean children taking up arms. But using children as spotters, couriers and camp staff are also considered a violation of their rights. Both sides of the conflict have been accused of these practices.
There is no denying the Filipino children are caught in the maws of conflict. Children have been reported killed in military operations.
A recent case in Pacquibato, which the military calls an encounter but rights groups dub as a massacre, injured the 12-year old daughter of woman peasant leader Aida Seisa.
In an interview with abs-cbnnews, Seisa said the supposed encounter occurred as the family was celebrating her wedding anniversary to a former migrant worker now working in a gold mine. She later testified at a Davao City council investigation.
The council approved last week a report on the incident, which killed three residents, including a datu, calling for the recall, investigation and prosecution of troops involved.
The latest complaint of attacks on alternative schools comes from Surigao del Sur, where lumad militia allegedly forced residents out of their homes on August 15.
The armed men gathered residents at a waiting shed and confiscated cellphones before interrogation. Wives of missing lumad – of food gathering trips in the mountain forests – were told to present their husbands on their return, to prove they have not joined the rebels.
Among those forced into the night was para-teacher Regine Tejero and 5 months pregnant Angel Vocales. The later tried to speak out their rights but was stopped when one of the men reportedly pointed his gun at her and her sick baby.