In Northern Samar
CATARMAN, Northern Samar – The rebel group continues to recruit children to their group and train them to fight against the government.
In this province alone, about 30 children are believed to have been recruited by the New People’s Army (NPA) as part of their guerrilla front, said Brigadier General Mario Lacurom, commanding officer of the 803rd Infantry Brigade, based this town.
Lacurom, in an interview with Leyte Samar Daily Express, said that the NPA are conducting “massive recruitment” of children to their group.
He said that they have learned from this activity by the rebel group from the information relayed to them by their assets in the grounds.
Northern Samar remains to have an active insurgency rebel, especially in far-flung areas.
Last May 13, a 12-year old boy was rescued by the soldiers in Barangay De Tubang, Silvino Lubos, one of the municipalities in the province where insurgency problem remains to be active.
The boy was carrying a half sack of rice were 20 rounds of 5.56 mm ammunitions, three cartridge 7.62 mm, linked for M60 machinegun and two cartridges 5.56 linked for K3 machine gun were concealed.
The ammunitions were said to be delivered by the boy to the members of the rebel group.
The boy is now in the custody of the provincial office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Catarman.
But in a statement, the National Democratic Front (NDF) in the region, speaking through its spokesperson, Rafael Salas, claimed that the military “fabricated” the incident by planting the ammunitions to the sack of the minor.
“The soldiers could have easily planted bullets while checking the sack of rice the child was carrying. Or the child could have picked up the bullets elsewhere because he lived in a highly militarized area. The NPA will never even put a child at such risk…” Salas said in an emailed statement.
Lacurom said that the rebels chose to recruit minors because they are easy to be recruited.
“They are recruiting minors because they could easily be influenced and get attracted to their promise of holding of guns, especially the boys,” Lacurom told Leyte Samar Daily Express in an interview.
He said that these minors are not only being used by the rebels to do the cooking or other errands but as combatants, especially those whose age are from 16 to 17.
“We call on the NPA members not to use children as this is a clear violation of the rights of the children and other (relevant) laws,” Lacurom said.
These children, he said, are supposed to be in schools but are trained and brainwashed to fight against the government forces, the Army official said.
“Atoy”, a former rebel who requested not to be named for security reason, said that the NPA often focus their propaganda at the young people who could easily be “indoctrinated”.
“Children could easily be swayed and threatened unlike their elders who could leave the group anytime they want,” Atoy, who was a member of the rebel group for five years, said.
The former rebel said that these minors were recruited by the NPA whose parents or relatives are also members of the group.
Atoy also said that some of these minors are orphaned reason why they joined the NPA.
“Situations of displacement and poverty make children even more vulnerable to recruitment,” Atoy added.
Aside from being used as spies, messengers, cooks, ferried ammunition and other supplies to other rebel camps, children were given training, such as to fight and use rifles and were given political indoctrination, he said.
Meanwhile, Lacurom emphasized that people need to know that the NPA are grossly violating the rights of children and subjecting them to dangerous situations.
“Today should be a happy day in Northern Samar as children go back to class. However, it is clear that they (NPA) continue to recruit children. And this exposes children to different forms of violence and exploitation,’ he said.
“Education is the key for a better society but I have seen how this war in Northern Samar affected so many children who are so talented but are unable to go to schools,” Lacurom said.
The army in Northern Samar is now trying to do something to rescue these children from the hands of the rebels while other government agencies like the DSWD pledge support to provide psychological counseling to help recruited children and reintegrate them into civilian lives.
By: JAZMIN BONIFACIO