ZAMBOANGA CITY – The military has condemned the continued recruitment of minors as fighters by the communist rebel group New People’s Army (NPA).
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz III, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said the NPA has been arming young recruits and forcing them to fight security forces.
Recruiting youths as combatants violates the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, Cruz said.
“Exploiting the youth’s innocence to become criminals is even tantamount to violation of RA 7610 which provides children with special protection against exploitation,” he added.
The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law is the first substantive agreement by the Philippines and the National Democratic Front, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, signed in 1998 in The Hague.
Cruz said many of the NPA rebels who surrendered to the military were teenagers.
“Let us give our youth the chance to grow up while peacefully learning from their youthful experiences and contributing in their own unique ways, as only the young can do, in building a peaceful and progressive Philippines,” he said.
He urged rebels to return to the fold of the law and take advantage of the government’s livelihood program. “We will work with other stakeholders to ensure your safety and well-being and that of your family,” Cruz said.
Just recently, four NPA rebels, who were recruited in their teens, surrendered to the 43rd CMO Company led by Lt. Leah Pura in Bukidnon province in northern Mindanao.
Cruz said Pura facilitated the surrender of the rebels – Digo Antian, now 23; Jun- Jun Calimpit, now 25; Robert 18; and Jhen, 15. He said Robert was recruited at age 16 and Jhen when she was 13 years old.
“They brought with them three high-powered firearms with assorted ammunition and magazines to the troops of 43rdCMO Company led by Lieutenant Leah Pura,” he said.
The four are being debriefed and would be included in the military’s Guns for Peace and the Comprehensive Local Integration Program.
“The four said they were deceived by their recruiters that joining the NPA will solve their problem of poverty. All of them further exposed that the NPA capitalized their desire to become soldiers when they were assured that they can hold a gun even without finishing school,” he said.