TRAINING GROUND FOR CHILD WARRIORS
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Tuesday said the use of Salugpongan schools by the New People’s Army’s (NPA) in its alleged recruitment of young indigenous people into the communist movement does not adhere to international norms and Philippine laws.
During a Senate hearing on the suspension of 55 Salagpongan schools catering to indigenous peoples communities across Davao Region, Esperon said these educational institutions have been converted as breeding grounds for the NPA to promote its ideology that espouses the violent overthrow of the government.
Esperon cited Republic Act 11188, which provides that children in situations of armed conflict have the right to be protected from recruitment into government forces or armed groups and from participation in armed conflict.
He also cited the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which states that armed groups distinct from the armed forces of a country should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.
“Therefore, covering to international norms and Philippine laws on the status of children in situations of armed conflict, the Salugpungan in Region 11 teaches the students with different beliefs and systems far from what government prescribes,” said Esperon.
Last July, the Department of Education (DepEd) ordered the suspension of the permit to operate of the 55 schools operated and owned by the Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Centers in Davao Region.
Esperon, who chairs the Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, presented his report by enumerating the following reasons for the suspension of the schools’ operations: the institutions do not teach the curriculums in accordance with DepEd guidelines; trains its students to hold mass actions against the government; and, teaches students to rebel against the government.
Esperon’s claims were based on the affidavit executed on Dec. 6, 2018 by Melvin Loyod, a former student of a Salugpungan school and eventually became a volunteer teacher in a Salugpungan school in Sitio Pongpong, Barangay Sto. Niño in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
During the same hearing, Datu Awing Apuga, a former child warrior of the NPA, called for the total closure of the Salugpongan schools.
Apuga recounted that he was only five years old when his father brought him to an alternative school, believing they would give him proper education but he was eventually trained to become a child warrior of the NPA.
Apuga noted that at the age of 15 years old, he was already taught to handle an M16 rifle and would regularly practice “target shooting.”
“Kung sino makatama sa gitna yun yung mataas na grade (Whoever hits the mark gets a high grade),” Apuga said.
“Yung tribo namin ginagamit na lang nila para gawing mga aktibista… Nire-recruit talaga ang mga estudyante (They used our tribe and turned our members into activists… They are really recruiting students),” he added.
He then joined the NPA and became a rebel under the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC) for seven years.
Currently, Apuga is a tribal leader in Talaingod and an IP rights advocate. He is also an active member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) in Talingod town, tasked with defending their ancestral domain from NPA incursion.
The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (PNA)