Child rights as issue in the Civil War
The ideologues, politicians and publicists of imperialism and puppetry constantly devise "new language" to discredit and stigmatize the national liberation movements. Semantically they frame and denigrate these as "nonstate actors" to be contraposed to what is presumed as "duly-constituted state actors." Then they proceed to misrepresent the "nonstate actor" as "terrorist" and pontificate that the latter can undo the misrepresentation only by capitulating to the oppressive state and betraying the people.
The NDFP represents in peace negotiations with the GRP the people's democratic government which is the co-belligerent of the GRP in the current civil war. This people's democratic government has effective power over an extensive population and territory. It is led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). It has the New People's Army (NPA) as main component of state power. The NDFP encompasses a wide array of political forces and mass organizations. In fact, two states now exist in the Philippines: one is revolutionary, representing the people's democratic power, and the other is counterrevolutionary, representing the foreign and domestic oppressors and exploiters.
In peace negotiations with the GRP, the NDFP represents the people's democratic government, which has its own constitution with a bill of fundamental rights. As a belligerent force under international law, the NDFP has proclaimed its Unilateral Declaration of Undertaking to Apply the Geneva Conventions and its Protocols and has deposited it with the Swiss Federal Council. The GRP and the NDFP have succeeded in forging and approving the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) by acting as co-belligerents equally using the International Bill of Rights and the International Humanitarian Law as frames of reference.
Since 1988, ahead of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army have categorically adopted the policy of prohibiting the recruitment of children below 18 to serve as combatants. And time and again the NDFP has declared that both its policy and the law of the people's democratic government prohibit the NPA from recruiting children below the age of 18 to serve as combatants that can be deployed for military offensive campaigns and operations.
Those between the age of 15 and 18 may be trained and directed by the mass organizations not for the purpose of participation in combat or hostilities but for the purpose of safety and self-defense in their own homes and communities. They are civilians and are not required to carry firearms. They are no more military combatants or actual soldiers than high school and college students engaged in preparatory or basic military training. In this regard, the position of the NDFP and the people's democratic government is far more advanced than the standard set by the Geneva Conventions. Such standard allows the military recruitment of children or youth from the age of 15 to 18, provided within this age bracket priority is given to the recruitment of the older ones.
However, certain malicious detractors of the NDFP and the people's democratic government, in UN and US official agencies and imperialist-funded nongovernmental organizations define a so-called child soldier as anyone below 18 years of age, who may simply be in a community under attack by the armed forces of the reactionary state and who even if without arms may be misrepresented as combatants for being presumably lookouts, spies, porters, messengers, cooks and what else of the NPA. It now becomes a crime just to be a Filipino child living in a community under attack by the GRP military, police and paramilitary forces. By lumping the NPA with certain irregular forces in Africa, there is even the insinuation that the NPA could be recruiting children as sex slaves. This shows complete ignorance of the strict Family Code of the people's government, which governs courtship, marriage and family relations.
There are those slanderers who have faked researches and findings, blatantly using hearsay, and have come up with such fantastic claims that from 10 to 30 percent of children in NPA areas are "child soldiers." These claims are patently false because they would make the number of NPA fighters run into hundreds of thousands, instead of the well-known varying estimates of 7000-12,000 NPA fighters made by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The shallowest kind of slander has been made by a foreigner who upon mere sight of short-sized NPA fighters concluded that they were children below 18. Filipino adults are often 4"10" to 5'2" in height. An American or European can easily mistake Ka Roger Rosal, CPP spokesman, for a teenager.
There are those who have capitalized on a handful of false cases of "child soldier" fabricated by the GRP military psywar experts and have extrapolated these into a far bigger number of "child soldiers" supposedly arrested by the GRP military and police. These are belied by the records of the Joint Monitoring Committee (created by CARHRIHL) and by earlier reliable records. In the well-known case of the child Edfu de la Cruz, the GRP military misrepresented him as a "child soldier" and actually subjected him to a series of human rights violations. He was seized by AFP troops while he was outside of his home. They forced him to tell them in which house were his parents and they proceeded to strafe the house and murder his parents. Then he was misrepresented and humiliated before the press as NPA "child soldier". He was illegally detained indefinitely in the compound of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD). His grandmother and other close relatives were prevented from taking him home, until the demands of the NDFP in the peace negotiations and public opinion compelled the authorities to release him.
All entities spewing out the propaganda that the NPA recruits "child soldiers" below 18 years and that there is a high proportion of NPA "child soldiers" among the children below 18 years in NPA areas are themselves violators of the rights of the child. They play loose with the definition of the so-called child soldier. Anyone below 18 who is alleged to have any role in the NPA, even if a noncombatant, is a child soldier. In a perversion of justice and due process, they put on the NPA the burden of proving that it has no "child soldiers" and they do not bother to bring their accusations and evidence to the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations or the Joint Monitoring Committee under CARHRIHL.
After four years of existence the UNICEF-funded Philippine Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has not attempted to establish direct communication with the NDFP. Even the UNICEF has neither presented positive proof nor asked NDFP to comment on the researches (which is normal academic practice) that it has used to conclude that there are child soldiers in the NPA.
The detractors have maintained a hypocritical silence over the well-proven misrepresentation of children as "child soldiers," as in the well-documented cases of Edfu and others. They thus make themselves party to the violation of the rights of these children by acquiescing to the military psywar labeling the children as "child soldiers." The UN and UNICEF have not engaged the NDFP in serious dialogue but have preferred to rely on the false claims of the GRP military and some NGO entrepreneurs with special axes to grind against the NDFP.
Contrary to their claims that they defend the rights of the child, the detractors of the NPA actually pave the way for the GRP military, police and irregular forces to arrest, detain, torture and murder children in their own homes and communities. In their attempt to demonize the NPA, they spread the propaganda that children in communities suspected of being pro-NPA are fair game for military attack. They also conceal the crimes of the armed minions of the GRP and make the large-scale real violators of the rights of the child appear innocent of their crimes.