Davao Today

Children suffer from social disasters in the Philippines- what with hunger, spiraling price of basic commodities, tenancy, land and crop conversions, joblessness, underemployment, among others. Malnutrition, maladjustment, fears and deaths due to preventable and curable diseases are common to the Filipino children, in school and out of school. With many forms of disasters in the environment, children and their families develop imbalances and hope tends to turn to despair.

While there are rural children increasingly becoming direct and indirect victims of Oplan Bayanihan (AFP’s current diabolic counterinsurgency program), there are faces of urban poor children staring at the on-going siege in Zamboanga City. Some are with their fathers or grandfathers who are detained for their suspected membership to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). These children are from the lower rung of the population whose families and communities are most often targets of development aggression. Their voices are never heard until they are listened to through their songs, body movements, stories and “artworks” in an organized set of activities.

But recent past must be remembered. Both Estrada and Arroyo regimes used all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). I was in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces in those periods to assist volunteers in bio-psychosocial help with and for children. It is always a reminder for the volunteers to consider children’s stories, their understanding of the things going on and what they want to do.

A group of children, about 25, in Maguindanao once told us in a group game that Estrada should be ousted. They were so quick and firm screaming that Estrada should get lost! And why? “For bombing our villages!” The children’s thoughts vary at that instance but they all pointed to a level of cognition of their situation in a political armed-conflict.

I wonder if the Zamboanga case speaks of the same level of children’s view. The children caught in the crossfire may be the immediate and distant relatives of members of the MNLF from Basilan, Tawi-tawi and Sulu. Their sanctuary in between schools, trading and farming activities may be the City of Zamboanga, incidentally the City of Flowers. Should there be a social group process among these children witnessing directly the Zamboanga standoff, are children able to freely express their sentiments and aspirations? Would they be able to scream as well, “Noynoy OUT!” same as the Moro children in Maguindanao who said it bluntly, “Joseph (Estrada) OUT!”

The United Nations agencies have spent years of collecting data about children in political-armed conflict and have defined child soldiers. It is alarming to have children in communities affected by political armed conflict as they could be labeled as deviants, using the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

Children whether deliberately used or not are still victims and survivors of state violence in the Philippine context. Millions of them are exposed to social ills, not to mention the alienation they succumbed to when their own parents join the millions overseas as contract workers or undocumented workers throughout the globe. (

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