Trading accusations

Teenager killed in combat trigger word war between army and NPA

THE KARAPATAN-SOUTHERN Mindanao Region accused the military of twisting the events leading to the death of an alleged teen Red fighter in a reported clash in Astorga, Sta. Cruz. Davao del Sur.In a statement, the group said that the 39th Infantry Battalion only tried to cover up for their mistake by accusing 15-year-old Jun Mark Acto as a member of the New People’s Army. In fact, according to the group, he was there to harvest copra.

The group said that Acto was a student of Ricardo L. Ipong National High School in Old Bulatukan, Makilala, North Cotabato. He was staying with relatives in Astorga for the summer vacation while helping his parents harvest copra from their farmland.

Karapatan said they interviewed witnesses and residents of Sitio Bayungon who attested that the teenager was not an NPA guerrilla.

“To justify their killing of a 15-year-old, the military concocted their usual narrative that the child is an NPA,” the statement read. “In so doing, these disgraceful animals have further revealed their true nature — mercenaries who have no regard for human rights, humanitarian law, or even just an ounce of human decency.“

Karapatan-SMR secretary general Jay Apiag said that testimony from witnesses alleged that on the morning of April 21, Acto and his cousin Jason and uncle Larry were at the farm harvesting copras.

“They were busy preparing their food for lunch when they heard a loud explosion, followed by a wave of gunshots directed at their location. This prompted them to run, but Jhun Mark was separated from his relatives,” Apiag said.

That afternoon, the victim’s family received word that the body of Acto was found in Sitio Bayungon.

After visiting the area the next day, he was positively identified by his family. His cousins noted that the 15-year-old was already wearing a black shirt with an NPA logo, and found with a backpack, firearms and explosives at his side.

“They insisted that these are all planted, as Jhun Mark was topless when they separated and was unarmed,” Apiag added.

He said this wasn’t the first time the military branded children as members of the NPA, citing the case of Grecil Buya in March 2007 and Roque Antivo in April 2013.

“It is hypocritical for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to say that they respect human rights and adhere to the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) when they are the number one perpetrator of grave IHL violations and other forms of rights abuses. This had no doubt worsened under the imposition of

No moral ground

Meanwhile in a separate interview, Lt. Col. Rhojun Rosales, the commander of 39th Infantry Battalion dismissed the Karapatan statement as mere propaganda.

“Was it a big coincidence that Julito Pueblos alias Taghoy, commanding officer of Sentro de Grabidad, Guerilla Front 51, who was also from Makilala, was with him in the inner sitios of Barangay Astoraga, Sta Cruz?” Rosales said.

He said the victim was living with his stepfather.

The nearest hut from the encounter site is approximately 100 meters away. He said it’s the same hut where they found IEDs and subversive materials.

Rosales said it’s not shocking to see a 15-year-old Red fighter because the NPA has been recruiting minors for a long time now. In 2015, 11-year-old Dodong surrendered to the army in Davao del Norte, and he revealed that he has been in the armed movement since he was six years old.

“The most prominent case of child warrior in Davao region is that of Zaldy Canete alias Jinggoy who surrendered to government troops after being wounded in a gunbattle in 2010,” Rosales said. “He was 23 years old when wounded and saved by members of the 8th Special Forces Company in ComVal. He was hospitalized and soldiers readily donated blood for him to survive.”

Jinggoy narrated he was recruited by the NPA when he was still 13. He was already wielding an M16 rifle at age 16 and figured in many attacks against government targets.

In 1998, Gelyn Dayong, a 16-year-old girl and a child combatant was left behind by the NPA after she was wounded in a firefight in Agusan del Sur. She was rescued by soldiers and went back to school thru AFP scholarship.

From 1999 to 2010, army data showed that at least 340 children were recruited by the CPP-NPA-NDF as child combatants. Of that figure, 209 surrendered, 119 were captured and saved while 12 were killed in armed skirmishes.

In 2009, a total of 291 NPAs surrendered to the 10th Infantry Division in Southern Mindanao which includes 29 women warriors and 13 child combatants. The children revealed that there are still more minors in the underground movement being employed by NPA terrorists in their war against the state. The 13 child combatants do not include those who joined the NPA as minors and surrendered when they were already adults.

In 2014, in Cagayan de Oro, a big group of NPA fighters numbering 72 surrendered to the AFP. A total of 13 of this group were children and many of the adults were minors when they were recruited. In 2017, a total of 683 NPA surrendered in areas in Eastern Mindanao and 52 of them were minors. This year a total of 66 minors already surrendered.

“We are appalled by the immediate statement of the self-declared human rights group Karapatan in lawyering for the NPA terrorists and absolving them of the crime they committed and continue to commit against our children,” Rosales said.

“We also remind Karapatan of their lies particularly the killing of Evelyn Pitao (sister of Leoncio Pitao alias Parago) and Ronald Dadula in 2010,” the army officer added. “Karapatan is quick to mirror the CPP-NPA-NDF line accusing soldiers of the crime until the investigation established the culprits as NPA hitmen.”