DAVAO CITY – The 14-year-old boy alleged as a child soldier was a small-scale child laborer, a child rights group said.
The Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Davao City citing findings of an independent probe into the alleged capture of a child soldier during battle, said that the boy, named only as alias “Dong” by the Army was a civilian who was working at the small scale mine near the vicinity of the encounter site.
Lindy Trenilla, regional program head of the CRC said they interviewed the father of the minor, and the members of the community in Sitio Post 4, Barangay Napnapan in Pantukan, Compostela Valley who testified that the child is not a combatant. A recent encounter between soldiers and a NPA unit happened on February 9.
CRC was among the cause oriented groups who joined the two-day national fact finding mission in Pantukan last February 23.
The Army’s 10th Infantry Division has previously reported that alias Dong is a “child soldier” who was captured together with Ronel Paas, 35 at a checkpoint while escaping from an encounter with elements of the 46th Infantry Battalion.
“The two were wounded while actively participating in the armed engagement with the soldiers. They were immediately brought by the soldiers to a hospital in Pantukan but Ronel Paas died due to his fatal wounds. After initial treatment, Dong was evacuated to Camp Panacan Hospital and subsequently turned over to the care and protection of DSWD,” said the Army in its statement.
“We were able to talk to Mr. Banjing Buat, the father of the child, and he told us that his son was working with them in doing gold panning,” Trenilla told Davao Today in a phone interview on Thursday, February 25.
Panning is a method done to extract gold from other particles commonly used by small-scale miners.
“At around 3:00 pm on February 9, Mr Buat narrated that they were panning gold when they heard gunshots. They went up near a vegetable garden to look where it was coming from. But then the child fell to the ground and was caught by his uncle,” she said.
When they saw that the child was hurt with gunshot wounds, the mine workers (abantero) helped out to bring him to Davao Regional Hospital in Apokon, Tagum City.
“But they were held by the military for four hours at the military checkpoint together with small scale miner Ronel Paas, who was also tagged as a rebel. Because of the delay to give them medical attention, Paas lost his life, while the boy was presented to the media as a “rescued” child soldier,” said Trenilla.
On February 10, the child was brought to the Southern Philippines Medical Center.
“He was the eldest son of his father with his first wife. There were four of them, and he stopped schooling this school year to help his father in the mines,” said Trenilla.
The child was a Grade 4 student in Palo Elementary School in Pantukan.
Davao Today tried to contact the number of Mr. Buat but his line was unattended.
DSWD says the child needs protection
In a press conference last February 17, Pedrita Demakiling, Protective Services Unit head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development XI, said the child sustained two gunshot wounds and that he needed operation to take out the bullets.
Demakiling said after the child’s medication, the DSWD will give temporary shelter for his rehabilitation.
“There is no need to return him to his family if his life is threatened. The child is at risk and for us he is a victim, whatever they call him, he is still a victim and he needs protection,” said Demakiling.
Demakiling said they still have to assess even among the families on who could take good care of the child.
Trenilla said they condemn the Army for “tagging and parading” the boy as a child warrior.
“They paraded a hapless boy to the public who could not defend himself,” said Trenilla.
“They have violated his rights as said in Article III Section 14 of the Constitution that “No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.”
Trenilla said the military kept on with this labeling of the kid in their social media accounts.
“He was one of the victims of indiscriminate firing and bombing from the military operations last week of February 9 that also killed a small scale miner,” she pointed out.
Trenilla said that the false branding of the child as “child warrior” is a “cowardly excuse” by the military to escape criminal liability.
She said they will present the findings of their probe to the Department of Social Welfare and Department.
“We are also challenging DSWD to go to the area and investigate at the community to find out for themselves that children are being branded as NPAs,” she said.
Trenilla said the child is “under duress” ever since he was into custody by the AFP for about seven (7) days, a clear violation of RA 7610 or Special Protection for Children Act which states thus “that the child shall be immediately placed under the protective custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) immediately but not later than 24 hours after apprehension…”
Trenilla said they had documented cases of 32 children falsely tagged as “child soldiers” by the Army, including the case of nine-year old Grecil Buya, killed in New Bataan, Compostela Valley in 2007 in a clash led by the 28th Infantry Battalion.
The CRC said these cases also include that of 15 year-old “Balong” who was allegedly abducted in Magpet, North Cotabato and that of 16 year-old “Amanda” in Toril, Davao City who was being texted by a soldier several times, was invited to the camp and later claimed to the public as an NPA child warrior.
Trenilla said they are pushing for a probe on the military for such attacks and false-branding on children.(davaotoday.com)