Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation, Inc.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE CHILDREN
The Mamasapano incident threatens to derail our progress in the path to peace in Mindanao. The loss of lives in this unfortunate event reminds us of the grave cost of armed conflict.
We should not mistake a call for an all-out war in the region for quest for justice. We can honor their courage and that of their families by pursuing peace and continuing what we have started in the path to peace in Mindanao. We can grieve for the lives of the Fallen 44 without having to resort to violence and unnecessarily sacrificing thousands more.
Recognizing the importance of this issue, we should not let politics and emotions cloud our judgment in the search for truth. Challenging as it is to continue, we have to stay committed in finding lasting solution to the decades-old problem of poverty and violence in Mindanao. We cannot abandon ongoing discussions on relevant issues in the region, all the more because some issues have not been as thoroughly discussed as the others. One of these issues is the situation of children in Mindanao who have huge stake in the success or failure of the peace process.
Children are among the most vulnerable segments of population in times of armed conflict. UNICEF estimates that 30,000 to 50,000 children are displaced every year due to different conflicts in the Philippines, many of them in Mindanao.
There have been also reports of children being recruited as combatants and used in different capacities to conduct and support military operations. In 2012 and 2013, UN documented 54 and 26 children, respectively, recruited and used as combatants, guides, porters and messengers by state and non-state armed groups in the Philippines, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Children are among the most regrettable collateral damage of war. In the Mamasapano clash, one child was among the seven civilian casualties. Too young gone too soon—her dreams shattered by bullets, her precious life destroyed.
Based on ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman’s presentation in the Senate hearing today (12 February 2015), more than 5,000 students in elementary and high school have been affected by the Mamasapano incident. In 2012, PCIJ reported that 200 schools have been destroyed throughout the decades-long conflict in Mindanao. This is on top of the long-term psychological impact on children: grief, fear, uprootedness and a general sense of hopelessness.
How many more children will have to suffer from the horrors of war in our country? It is our moral obligation to work on ensuring that every child is a zone of peace, and no child will die, be deprived of education and denied of the chance to live a peaceful and productive life because of armed conflict.
Moreover, as a State Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, we have to fulfill our commitment in promoting the best interests of the child and protecting children’s rights. Article 38 of the UN CRC specifically mandates States Parties to “take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.”
Let us be firm in our resolve, now more than ever, to work for peace—for everyone, and especially for our children!