“Legislating a measure that misses the point about children’s rights and armed conflict in the country is very dangerous at a time when state forces continue to commit red-tagging, harassment and killings of children in conflict situations.”
This was the statement of Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus over the approval of the House Bill 4557 supposedly seeking special protection of children in situations of armed conflict at the committee level last Monday.
De Jesus said that instead of recognizing militarization of communities as primary threat to children’s rights, HB 4557 further lays down justification for state forces to intrude communities and falsely brand children as purportedly involved in armed conflict.
Gabriela cited human rights group Karapatan’s report on the threat and harassment committed by members of the Philippine Marines against several residents of Barangay Hinalaan, Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat, including a minor.
Based on the report, 16-year-old Jefrey Gantangan was red-tagged, interrogated and harassed by members of the 2nd Marine Battalion Landing Team, Philippine Marines last March 22 based merely on a wound on his feet. Gantangan was on his way to the village hall to withdraw cash from his family’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) ATM savings account.
Several others in the community were harassed in separate incidents, two days after an encounter between soldiers and members of the New People’s Army in a nearby village.
“We fear that cases of harassment and false branding against children like this will intensify under a measure that justifies the loose labeling of children purportedly involved in armed conflict. We will raise our concerns on HB 4557 at the plenary once it goes into second reading,” De Jesus said.
GWP Rep. Arlene Brosas echoed De Jesus’ call, saying the measure provides added basis for the militarization of communities rather than address the roots of armed conflict.
“Equating children to zones of peace is very problematic as it glosses over the objective reality that children in many parts of the country live in armed conflict due to extreme poverty. Such definition will be used as basis to uproot children from perceived areas of conflict and thus opening the possibilities for more rights violations against them,” Brosas said. #