Groups slam military for calling children killed in attacks as ‘child warriors’

Sep. 30, 2008

DAVAO CITY–A child rights organization criticized state troops for claiming that children killed in encounters were child warriors, turning children into targets of military offensives.

John Birondo, advocacy officer of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), observed this during the aerial bombardments in Maguindanao in August, where the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) called the children hit by their bombardments as child warriors of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Birondo said the AFP statement was dangerous not only because it downplayed the “cold blooded violations of the rights of children, but also because it exposed children to direct military attacks.

Ma. Esmeralda Macaspac, CRC executive director, said the statements made by Colonel Marlou Salazar, 601st brigade commander, were “irresponsible and cowardly.” She pointed out that five of the six children who were killed were below ten years old, slamming the military’s penchant for branding children that they have killed in their operations as “child warriors.”

Killed during an aerial bombing in Datu Piang, Maguindanao were Aida Mandi, 23; and her children Bailyn, 10; Zukarudin, seven; Adtayan, five; and Faida, two. Aida was carrying a child in her womb. A graphic picture of Aida’s corpse has been posted in, the official website of the MILF central committee.

The Mandis were fleeing during an air attack launched by the military on their village when they were killed. Aida’s husband and another son were still missing.

Macaspac scored the military for failing to draw the line between civilians and combatants while pursuing the MILF. She said many civilians have already been killed and hundreds of thousands more have been forcibly driven away from their homes. “Every time the government declares war, the civilians are the first to get killed and the first to be displaced,” she said.

Child rights groups are holding military officials, particularly the Philippine Air Force third air division, accountable for the death of the Mandi children. PAF third air division conducted the aerial bombings in Maguindanao during the height of government offensives against the MILF in August.

“Justice should be served,” Macaspac said. “The AFP continues to escape accountability over child rights violations using as an excuse, the claim that the children they killed were child warriors. Justice must not be blind to the children’s plight.”

Birondo also demanded that the government should protect and uphold the rights of children. He said that the Arroyo governments war against the MILF doesn’t solve the problems of the Moro people. Instead, it worsens the conflict and increases the violations of childrens rights, he said. “The way towards peace in Mindanao becomes more difficult with the governments callous action of declaring war, which only increase the suffering of innocent civilians, especially children.”

In August, war broke out between government troops and frustrated elements of the MILF after the failed signing of a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD), which would have expanded the territory and the powers of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that practically stopped the signing of the MOA-AD, which would have given the MILF authority over areas covered by the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

The agreement has since been criticized for being unconstitutional and for being drafted without consultation and transparency.

Malacanang has since indicated to the Supreme Court that it was no longer interested in signing the MOA, disbanding the government’s panel of peace negotiators, as a result. (CJ Kuizon/

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