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Martial law in Mindanao victimizes more Lumad children—NDFP

President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao, extended for the second straight year this 2019, continues to wreak havoc in the lives of Lumad children, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Southern Mindanao Region said.

In a statement posted on its website today, the NDFP reported that a platoon of the 88th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army accosted and seized 17-year old Loujean Antian Lumbatan, a Grade 7 student of Sinuda High School, and 10-year old Ara Mystica Antian Pangcat, a Grade 5 student of Cabalansihan Elementary School at Sitio Sanggiapo, Brgy Sinuda, Kitaotao in Bukidnon province at around 11:00 in the morning last February 18.

“For no apparent reason, the two unarmed Lumad minors were arrested and held incommunicado at the unit’s camp in Sitio Sanggiapo between 11:00 in the morning and 11:00 in the evening,” the NDFP said.

Early in the afternoon, the parents and some relatives searched frantically for the missing children and proceeded to confront the soldiers but were turned away by the soldiers who insisted they knew nothing of the children’s whereabouts, the group added.

The girls were released in the afternoon of the next day, February 19, but not after being subjected to harrowing interrogation and were brought to the 88th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Maramag, the NDFP said.

The girls reported that they could hear their parent’s voices outside the camp in Sitio Sanggiapo but were warned by the soldiers not to make any sound.

When confronted why they arrested and detained the two girls, the soldiers reportedly claimed they were only after “the[ir] safety,” the NDFP said. 

The Bukidnon incident followed the January 30 seizure of two toddlers, a one-year old and a two-year old, and their subsequent forced separation from their parents and guardians by AFP and PNP troops following a raid on the office of the Misamis Oriental Peasants Association (MOFA) in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental, the group said.

“In Lumad areas in Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte and elsewhere in the Southern Mindanao, bombings, shelling and indiscriminate firing within populated communities by AFP troops and their paramilitaries Bagani and Alamara have terrorized hundreds of children,” the NDFP said in its statement. 

The NDFP also scored the arrest of three civilians of the 71st IB last February 20 at Sitio Binogsayan, Brgy. Napnapan in Pantukan town.

Eddie Avila, Graciano Embalsado and Pulpy Lariwan were later forced to “surrender” as members of the New People’s Army (NPA), even as local government officials insisted that the three were in fact civilians, Rubi del Mundo, NDFP-SMR spokesperson said.

‘Localized peace talks’

But Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Eduardo Año said the so-called surrenders are real that stem from the continuing success of localized peace talks between local government officials and the revolutionary groups.

“Dahil sa sipag at pagpupursigi ng ating mga local officials, natanggal na ang kaliskis sa mga mata ng mga dating rebelde at naliwanagan na sila,” Año said in a statement posted on the DILG website today, citing the reported surrender of more than 200 alleged Communist supporters in Negros Island last month.

The DILG secretary claimed the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict by Duterte will also lead to more rebel surrenders because of its focus on localized peace engagements.

Año also said DILG’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) has disbursed around P488 million in 2018to aid former rebels and their immediate family members

‘PR stunts’

The NPA’s Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command, however, dismissed government’s claims, saying so-called peace and development outreach programs by the Duterte administration are mere public relations stunts that are part of its psychological war tactics.

“They are in fact mere PR stunts which hold neither a grain of truth nor reflect the sentiments of thousands of Lumad who continue to be victimized by the US-Duterte regime’s hated martial law,” Rigoberto Sanchez, NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command spokesperson, said.

Sanchez added it eludes common sense that the Lumad and the peasants should support government troops when it is they who seek to destroy their way of living, sell ancestral land to greedy and exploitative capitalists threaten or kill those who opposes them. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bill lowering children’s criminal liability draws wide opposition

Government agencies, children’s rights advocates and international organizations are up in arms over efforts at the House of Representative to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) of children from 15 to nine years old.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) object to the measure, saying the proposed adjustment violate international laws such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) promoting and protecting children’s rights that the Philippine government promised to uphold.

“It will increase the chances of more children at a younger age to be subjected to judicial proceedings contravening the spirit and intent of the Convention,” the DSWD and JJWC in a statement said.

Both offices recalled that the UNCRC Committee has in fact praised the Philippine government when it passed the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (or RA 9344), which raised the MACR from 9 to 15 years old.

‘Bill by dumbest lawyer’

But President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly complained that the law is too lenient on children in conflict with the law and blamed its principal sponsor Senator Francis Pangilinan.

“This law passed by this son of a b***? He passed the juvenile law…Fifteen years old and you can’t put them in jail!” Duterte in a speech in Puerto Princesa City said.

“You are really nothing. You are the dumbest lawyer I know…I will destroy him,” Duterte said of Pangilinan last November.

In response to Duterte’s wishes, the House Committee on Justice, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon, said it will hold a hearing today to repeal RA  9344 as a “priority matter of legislation.”

“[The House of Representatives] will move for the passage of the bill in support of a request from President Duterte,” a statement from Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo’s office last Friday added.

‘Anti poor’

But both the DSWD and the JJWC said that poverty should be blamed on children running afoul with the law.

“Prior to the enactment of RA 9344, studies found that most children involved in crimes were poor.  Most came from dysfunctioning families who lack access to basic needs, parental love and support, with very little education and were usually neglected or abused,” the agencies said.

“Most committed theft and crimes against property.  Clearly, these were crimes committed for survival, safety and security, they added.

A children’s rights group echoed the agencies’ concern, adding dire poverty in the Philippines makes them more prone to criminality and anti-social activities.

“The government should address poverty and make services available to children in conflict with the law. Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old is not the solution. Children should be protected and be given the chance for rehabilitation,” the Association for the Rights of Children in Southeast Asia said in another statement.

Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights and its member organizations including the Children’s Rehabilitation Center also voiced its opposition to the measure, saying the MACR bill neglects that fact that poverty and lack of socio-economic opportunities are the main drivers of child offenses.

“At least 45 percent of the offenses attributed to children are petty theft, robbery and other offenses against property, while 65 percent of children offenders come from poor families,” Karapatan said.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Save the Children Philippines also voiced their opposition to the measure.

“Lowering the age of criminal responsibility is an act of violence against children,” the UNICEF said Friday.

“This will only push them to further discrimination, abuse and eventually, into more anti-social behavior,” SCP for its part said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Children vs convicted criminals

Several members of the Philippine House of Representatives want the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility lowered from 15 to nine years old while powerful personalities such as former First Lady Imelda Marcos convicted of graft remain free. (Cartoon by Mark Suva)

NDFP: Sagay massacre child survivor needs protection from police

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines Special Office for the Protection of Children (SOPC) called for the protection of the 14-year old Sagay City massacre survivor the police earlier tried to take into custody.

Coni Ledesma, NDFP Negotiating Panel member and SOPC head said in a statement that the victim needs psycho-social support and the nurture of his family instead of being endangered into being branded a child soldier of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“The last thing the boy needs is to be victimized and traumatized twice over by being treated like a criminal,” Ledesma, also a Negrense, said.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) tried arresting the victim last Wednesday while in the custody of the City Social Work and Development Office of Sagay and said he may be both witness and suspect in the incident last Saturday that killed nine farmers.

Sagay Police Chief Inspector Robert Reyes Mansueto denied arresting the victim and said they only tried to him “for safekeeping.”

The boy was eventually returned to his mother with the help of human rights lawyers.

Ledesma said the minor is among the most vulnerable of the Sagay massacre survivors who needs urgent intervention.

The NDFP SOPC called on human rights, civic and religious organizations and concerned individuals to come to the aid of the child.

“His parents or guardians, his teachers, people from his community must stand up and vouch for him to prevent the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP from further violating his rights,” Ledesma said.

She added that the NDFP-SOPC is willing to provide support and assistance should the boy and his family request it. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Children’s group Salinlahi celebrates 32nd anniversary

Aktibong pagtalakay sa mga isyu kaugnay sa karapatan ng kabataan ang naging kaganapan sa ika-32 anibersaryong programa ng Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns.

Nagsama sama ang iba’t ibang sektor upang pangunahan ang usapin ukol sa kabataan na nararapat pagtuunan ng pansin ng kasalukuyang pamahalaan.

Kasama rin sa programa ang pangkulturang pagtatanghal ng ilang kabataan upang isulong ang panawagan sa pagsulong ng kanilang karapatan lalo na sa panahong ito na laganap ang pang aabuso.

Ipinakita sa kabuuan ng programa ang boses hindi lamang ng mga grupong lumalaban kundi pati ng mga mismong kabataan.

A giant of a film waiting to be born

“Yield” is a film that has already made history by being included as finalist to six categories in this year’s 66th Famas Awards. It may be the first ever documentary film to be nominated in the best film and best director categories–traditionally exclusive to full-length feature films. It is also a finalist in the best cinematography, best editing, best sound, and best documentary film categories.

Yield’s co-director, cinematographer, editor, sound engineer Victor Delotavo Tagaro told Kodao the film will finally be launched after the Famas Awards ceremonies.

Following is Kodao’s short review of the film. (Tagaro was once a Kodao filmmaker.)

= = = =

Filipino feature films usually rely on long-winded dialogues to move their stories along.  Video documentaries, on the other hand, mostly rely on voiceovers to stitch its sequences together.  In both cases, they betray their radio drama roots by almost always describing what is already being shown.

Comes now Yield, a 90-minute pictorial feast that eschews the voice-over and the dialogue as story-telling tools.  The film relies almost entirely on the visual to bring the viewer from one situation to the next, in a bracing roller-coaster ride of both despair and hope.

The documentary does not reveal a script—an unconventional approach realized successfully by its directors.  There are no interviews either, the film firmly sticking to the unhindered interaction between the camera and the subjects.  Thus, there are no perspectives but the subjects’ and the viewers’ reactions are entirely their own, unencumbered by manipulative dialogue or an interviewer’s questions.

Instead, the film relies solely on gorgeous sequential cinematography to move the story along.  The deliberate composition of each frame and the beautiful movement of each sequence offer the viewers a visual tour-de-force that is unlikely to be forgotten in a long while.

Yield’s narrative benefits from this unusual and brave approach in filmmaking.  It is a presentation and discussion of the lives of poor children all over the Philippines that is un-proselytizing but pregnant, silent but incendiary.  It lets poor children tell their stories just by living, the camera recording them almost incidental.  It lets them tell the viewer a thing or two about their struggles to live—and die—with dignity.

Within an hour-and-a-half, the film takes us to five years of these children’s lives.  It also subtly reminds us while watching of the epic amount of dedication and creativity spent to produce it, as well as bonds and relationships formed between the filmmakers and the subjects in those five years of pain and joy, of loss and creation.

Yield is co-directed by its executive producer Toshihiko Uriu and Victor “Onin” Delotavo Tagaro who, to date, is most famous for his 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre documentary, “Sa Ngalan ng Tubo.”  He is also the primary cinematographer and editor of this TIU Cinema production.  The film’s unobtrusive yet powerful music is by Diwa Felipe de Leon

Whenever this documentary’s launch date may be, it should be marked as the day Philippine cinema gave birth to a giant of a film.—Raymund B. Villanueva

HRW DISPATCH: Philippines’ Displaced Children Barred from School

HUNDREDS of Filipino children were barred from attending class when schools opened this week.

The reason? The children have been living in shelters in Zamboanga City since their families fled fighting in the southern Philippines, and the Zamboanga City government failed to submit their school records and other requisite personal data to the Department of Education. It’s not clear if or when these kids will be able to attend school. Read more