Philippine army mislabeled child soldiers—rights group
MANILA, Philippines — A U.S.-based human rights group accused the Philippine army Wednesday of falsely labeling some children it had taken into custody as communist child soldiers.
The military had reported earlier that 215 New People’s Army child soldiers surrendered, 121 were captured and 12 were killed between January 1999 and January this year.
Human Rights Watch said in a report that at least 12 children in six cases had been falsely labeled child soldiers by the military.
It said the army made the claims to score propaganda points against the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, its armed wing. The rebels have been battling the government for decades.
The rights group urged the government to immediately stop fabricating stories of child soldiers.
“The army is concocting stories of rebel child soldiers that are putting children at risk for propaganda purposes,” Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, said in a statement.
Army spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc denied the accusation and said that the rebels may have fed “half-truths” to the rights group.
The rights group said that in one case, a 10-year-old boy was allegedly manhandled by soldiers, who tied his hands.
According to the report, the boy claimed the soldiers were trying to force him to admit that he and two other boys had planted a bomb. One of the other boys said the soldiers threatened to kill his father if he did not identify rebels in their area, the report said.
In another case, a 14-year-old boy who was visiting his hometown in Northern Samar province for a village fiesta was taken into custody by soldiers who publicly declared him and his older sister as child warriors. The social welfare department, however, said there was no evidence that the siblings were involved with the rebels, the report said.
“The use of child soldiers in the Philippines is a matter of grave concern that the government should be taking seriously,” Pearson said. “But fabricating claims that children are involved undermines efforts to address genuine child soldier recruitment while putting other children in danger.”
Cabunoc said that the “accusations have no basis.”
“The real issue really is who is using child soldiers? It is not the armed forces, but the (rebels),” he said.
The rebels have been fighting the government for more than four decades. Norway has brokered peace talks on economic, social, political and electoral reforms to try to end the conflict.
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