MANILA - Former congressman Satur Ocampo rejected Monday allegations that communist rebels are recruiting minors in Lumad areas.
Ocampo, who was arrested for alleged kidnapping and human trafficking of students of a Lumad school in Davao Del Norte, said the Communist Party of the Philippines–New People's Army has a "rule against recruiting minors."
"Definitely, that could not be a part of the program of the NPA," he told ANC's Headstart.
However, this is not to deny that the armed wing of the communist movement is not present in the area, said Ocampo.
"The NPA operates in the hinterlands. It so happens that most if not all of the communities of the Lumads are in the hinterlands, so they become battleground areas. It is not surprising that the NPA has its main objective of organizing the people in the struggle for their own welfare,” he said.
“It doesn’t deny that there are Lumads who joined the NPA but they are not minors,” he added.
On the other hand, he said the military is also recruiting from the community for its Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit and organizing its paramilitary arm.
"The consequence is that the people are being divided and fighting among themselves," he said.
Ocampo said he was in Davao del Norte last week with 72 others for a "mission to bring food to the students, teachers, who were more or less confined in the Salugpungan Community School" in Talaingod town.
"The military, their paramilitary...concentrated on harassing them almost on a daily basis. Food that was being sent to them was intercepted," he said.
The mission was mounted by the administration of the school to help in the transport of food and to "urge the authorities to stop the efforts of the military to close the schools," said Ocampo.
He said he and ACT-Teacher Party-list Rep. France Castro went immediately to the provincial governor on Wednesday to follow up on the clamor from the school and seek permission from the civilian government so that they may go through the checkpoints of the military towards the schools, but they were unable to get anything even until the end of the working day.
The district superintendent of schools in the area, however, acknowledged that there was indeed an effort by military forces to shut down schools and "made it clear that the military has no authority to close the schools."
While all was set for their visit to the school on Thursday morning, they received a report later that night "that the school was already shut down and the students and teachers were forced out, they were walking on the highway and they called for support."
"Instantly, our mission was transformed into a mercy rescue mission—no time to coordinate with any of the officers who in the first place refused to give any permit to us," he said.
Ocampo and his group have since been allowed temporary freedom after posting a bail bond of P80,000 each.