The following is my response to the presentation of the Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Philippines to the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict at 12 pm, Friday, June 2, 2017, Conference Room 7, UNHQ. The Report summarized abuses against children in armed conflicts in the Philippines. In content, it damned by faint praise our Armed Forces on the basis of a few but nonetheless egregious instances of barbarity by our troops but it showered praises on the MILF for undertaking measures, and promising even more measures, to moderate its regular barbarity in the abuse and employment of children in war. There seemed to be an assumption that the more we give up our sovereignty the better chance we shall have to be praised in turn with equal exuberance by the United Nations. The UN gets its information from civil society groups and from interactions with the MILF arranged by our government.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to address this Working Group to discuss the Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Philippines for the period December 2012 to December 2015. I wish to thank the Honorable Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, whom I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this week. I wish to further thank the office of the SRSG for the transparent and collegial manner with which the report was prepared, which gave the Philippine government the opportunity to comment on the draft. We appreciate the effort to achieve a fair and balanced reporting process.
We share, to an even greater degree if that was possible, the UN’s profound concern for the safety of children in armed conflict. There is absolutely no excuse, no justification, no conceivable rationale for enlisting, let alone hurting children in armed conflicts as armed groups tend to do. Children’s very evident size and vulnerability make it impossible to believe that they are hurt inadvertently in a fight, or that they can be used deliberately to fight. Armed groups that have so used them are beneath contempt. That they have, of late, moderated their use and abuse of children merely underscores that the deplorable practice has finally touched if not their conscience then their self-interest to appear better in the eyes of the world.
The Philippines has suffered human, social and economic costs from decades-long armed conflicts waged by different armed groups. Finding a resolution to these conflicts and attaining peace remain at the core of my country’s national security and development agenda. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has advanced a Six-Point Peace and Development Agenda, which aims to bring about, one, new peace agreements consistent with human rights and our democratic constitution, along with the meaningful implementation of existing agreements and commitments with the various armed groups; two, a peace that promotes catch-up socio-economic development in conflict areas; and, three, a culture of peace and conflict sensitivity. Once realized, this Agenda will positively impact the lives of children in armed conflicts.
The Philippines is a State Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). As such it is committed to undertake the appropriate measures to enforce the rights recognized in the CRC and accompanying Optional Protocols for the protection of children from recruitment and use in armed conflict and from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation, including rape by soldiers whose sworn duty is to protect them. That the incident in question is isolated does not diminish its repulsiveness. Armies are raised to win conflicts without inflicting abuses that create new ones. Towards this end, the Second National Action Plan for Children was crafted to sustain existing, and to identify new programs and activities for the protection of children.
Since the last reporting period, the Philippines has gone further in institutionalizing mechanisms to prevent violations against children in armed conflicts.
One, there is the Monitoring, Response and Reporting System for Grave Child Rights Violations under the auspices of the Philippine Council for the Welfare of Children. Two, there is the Inter-Agency Committee on Children in Armed Conflict, which coordinates with UNICEF and its technical working group on the UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting of grave child rights violations in armed conflicts. The Committee reviews cases of alleged violations. These mechanisms are up and running as we speak, particularly in the ongoing resolution of the crisis in Marawi, of which I have the most recent report from the field. Three, the Philippine government continues to strengthen its capacity to address and prevent the incidence of grave violations by training and empowering frontline service providers in the local government and community levels, with the participation of civil society in identifying, reporting and responding to incidents. Four, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has started implementing a strategic plan drafted with UNICEF, to better protect children in the course of military operations. The AFP has since reached some of the benchmarks. Policy and mechanisms in the plan to respond better to child-victims are being improved.
In my meeting with Ms. Gamba earlier this week, she expressed her desire to maintain a continuous engagement between her office and Member States on issues affecting children in armed conflicts. I welcome this initiative because it addresses two concerns that, in my experience, pose a challenge to achieving fair and balanced reporting on the part of the SRSG, namely: the brevity of time within which a Member State must provide comments to a draft report (although I am aware that the more time the more excuses can be invented). And second, the lack of clarity and details of some cases cited in reports, which make it difficult for the concerned governments to validate.
We have no need nor desire to hide abuses. We want an Army that fights to win conflicts; not to create new conflicts by abuses especially of children.
It is my hope that establishing and nurturing a relationship with the office of the SRSG will facilitate the issuance of timely, accurate, and balanced reports—and pave the way to stamping out violence against children in the wars that Member States still sadly wage to protect their people from enemies. Thank you.
The Swedish ambassador who chaired the Working Group asked if any of the ambassadors wished to ask me questions. There were none. He and Ms. Gamba escorted me to the door. I assured both of them, if they were listening, that I look forward to cooperating with them and that I would investigate the particular incident involving soldiers shooting a family of five for alleged NPA connections and another one involving the detention and rape of a 14-year old girl over a two-month period. The soldiers and officer involved have been censured which I think is inadequate. If anyone should be shot, it should not be pushers but soldiers who disgrace the Army by the filthiness of their conduct in war. Rape. Contemptible.
I hope my message was clear for a lean and clean Philippine Army able to win wars without creating reasons for other wars to arise, which was my way of emphasizing that we will fight to protect and preserve our country even from enemies who win the praises of the United Nations for their protestations of moderation, if nothing else.