‘Military presence in schools results in rights violations’

Last year, soldiers from the 25th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army occupied the Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. (STTICLCI) in Purok 4-B, Mangayon village, Compostela Valley. The soldiers reportedly arrested four students, interrogated, and used them as guides in military operations.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Child rights group Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) slammed the memorandum issuances by the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines allowing military presence in schools.

On July 15, 2013, AFP issued Letter Directive No. 25 or the “Guidelines in the Conduct of AFP Activities Inside or Within the Premises of a School or a Hospital. ” The DepEd, meanwhile, issued Memorandum No. 221 series of 2013 or the “Guidelines on the Protection of Children during Armed Conflict” last Dec. 13, 2013.

Jacquiline Ruiz, executive director of CRC said, “Both [memo] will only legitimize the use and presence of military troops in school premises and endanger the rights and welfare of children.”

CRC’s fear is not without basis.

The group cited the recent occupation of Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. (STTICLCI) in Purok 4-B, Mangayon village, Compostela Valley by elements of the 25th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

According to CRC-Southern Mindanao, the soldiers led by Lt. Heroben Romare occupied STTICLCI last Jan. 25 until Jan. 28. Ruiz said the occupation has brought fear among the students and disrupted the classes. She added that school personnel and community members insisted that the military encampment is against their school policy but to no avail.

“State forces continue to violate the rights and welfare of our children. The encampment did not only endanger the security of the students but also violated the right of children to quality education. The STTICLCI is active in advocating indigenous and rural education. However, their aim to provide literacy and numeracy to Lumad communities is often hindered by military operations,” Ruiz said.

According to Ruiz, community members were also harassed and interrogated by the soldiers. She said some residents were so terrified that they were not able to tend to their farms. She also cited that since the militarization heightened – which is believed to be connected to the ongoing preparations for mining exploration of Agusan Petroleum and Minerals Corporation, an affiliate of Danding Cojuanco’s San Miguel Corporation – numerous cases of rights violations were documented.

Ruiz added the elements of 25th IBPA had committed several rights violations in the same school last year. “Last year, over a hundred elements of 25th IBPA mounted a camp near the school that resulted in the same dreadful effects to the students and forced the community to evacuate.”

Ruiz added that four students of STTICLCI, including three minors, were arrested, interrogated and used as guides by the military. “The students also experienced physical and mental torture as they were threatened to be killed by their captors,” Ruiz said.

The incident is not an isolated case. From July 2010 to December 2013, Karapatan has documented 132,633 victims of right violations involving the use of schools, medical, religious and other public places for military purposes. The group also documented 18 cases of extrajudicial killings victimizing children.

Karapatan said both DepEd and AFP memos legitimize attacks against children by allowing the use of schools/educational institutions for military purposes, “sugarcoating such operations as civil-military operations (CMOs).”

“From the horses’ mouths themselves, the AFP has extolled Oplan Bayanihan, Aquino’s counter-insurgency program, for utilizing combat and ‘non-combat’ strategies, which included CMOs, as means to defeat rebel groups. Thus, CMOs in the guise of humanitarian activities are within the framework and operations of the AFPs ongoing war and cannot be devoid of any military objective.”

Karapatan cited cases, which, they said, would reveal the pattern of rights abuses under the guise of CMOs.

In Baguio City, Memorandum No. 68 was issued by the Schools Division Superintendent that requires grade six and high school students to participate in the counterinsurgency lectures conducted by the AFP during class hours. In coordination with the DepEd, the Charlie Company of the 5th Civil Military Operations Battalion, 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army is allowed to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign, a one hour symposium, in all public elementary and high schools in this Division starting July 1, 2012. According to the memorandum, “This is to enhance pupils’/students’ consciousness about the lies, deception and clandestine operation of the Communist Terrorist Movement.”

On June 28, 2013, soldiers belonging to the 81st Infantry Battalion Philippine Army (IBPA) led by Cpl. Domingo arrived at Nagtenga village in Ilocos Sur and met with the village officials. They explained that their presence was part of Aquino’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan. The soldiers encamped at the village hall of Nagtenga, where the health center and day care center are located. Despite the objection of the residents, the military still encamped in the village hall.

A similar incident happened in Sampaguita village, municipality of Kibawe, Bukidnon. Eighteen soldiers from the 8th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) arrived in the village on March 21, 2012. The soldiers immediately went to Sampaguita Elementary School and used it as a military camp without permission from the head of the community.

Karapatan also documented a case of red-tagging in Lopez, Quezon in August 2013. Soldiers of the 85th Infantry Battalion went to Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) and conducted a “Symposium for Peace.” Mark Anda, a member of the student council, was not able to attend the said symposium due to his exams. He later learned that the military tagged him as a recruiter of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“This was done by the AFP despite the issuance of the guidelines and the Prudente-Ramos Memorandum of agreement prohibiting the presence of the police and the military inside school campuses,” the group said.

The groups reiterated their demand for the pullout of military personnel from communities and schools.

“As commander in chief of the AFP, we are demanding that President Benigno S. Aquino III respects the rights and welfare of the children through the immediate pull out of military troops in schools and communities. Ultimately, we demand that the government scraps the violent and deceptive Oplan Bayanihan,” Ruiz said. ()

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