COMPOSTELA VALLEY — The AFP is lying when it charged the NPA of recruiting child soldiers. Worse, it is in fact the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who has been doing it, recruiting and using child warriors. This is the gist of a statement emailed to Bulatlat by Rigoberto F. Sanchez, spokesperson of the Medardo Arce command of the New People’s Army (NPA). Sanchez claimed they have proof that what the AFP has been accusing the NPA of doing is actually “a matter of official policy in the AFP’s own ranks, long practiced in their counter-revolutionary theatre.”
On June 19 the NPA has captured a 17-year old AFP combatant in a checkpoint reportedly put up by the NPA in Barangay Upper Ulip, Monkayo, Compostela Valley. Seventeen-year old Juve Latiban (with SN # CT-G09000182) is part of paramilitary Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), which is directly trained and being led by the AFP. According to Sanchez, this child combatant’s story reveals that the Armed Forces of the Philippines, particularly its 10th Infantry Division, has been recruiting and arming minors.
Juve Latiban was reportedly only 15 just years old when he was first recruited by one Pfc. Alvin Latiban, from the 10th IB of the AFP, in Brgy. Upper Ulip in Monkayo, Compostela Valley. According to Sanchez, Juve Latiban is apparently not the only child warrior in the AFP, but just one in a batch of AFP recruits that included 18 other minors who were given a 45-day training by the AFP in the then 1001st Infantry Brigade-AFP headquarters in Brgy. Tuburan, Mawab, Compostela Valley.
When Juve Latiban was barely 16 years old, he and his batch mates including 18 other minors were reportedly officially admitted as CAFGUs in ceremonies held on December 8, 2008 at the 72nd Infantry Battalion Company Post in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley.
“Latiban attested that he and the 18 other minors in his batch were given fake birth certificates. His own bogus birth certificate showed that he was born on 1990 instead of the factual 1992 so that it would appear that he was already 18 at the time of his training. He confessed that the 72nd IB-AFP trainors knew of their actual ages. He was first detailed at the Philippine Army detachment in Brgy. Upper Ulip, Monkayo,” Sanchez said.
Because of his real age, Juve Latiban is not being treated as a Prisoner of War (POW) in the NPA camps, despite his status as an AFP combatant, Sanchez clarified. Instead, he said the young Latiban is “only temporarily under NPA custody and shall be released if and when 10th ID-AFP chief Maj. Gen. Carlos Holganza refrained from further putting up stumbling blocks to Latiban’s safe reunion with his family.”
Sanchez also dared Capt. Emmanuel Garcia, spokesman of the 10th ID-AFP, to “seize this chance to give credence to their claims of ‘social integration and peace and development,’ “by making it possible to immediately re-integrate CAFGU Latiban with his family as a civilian youth and not as a minor-combatant.”
Sanchez also urged the AFP to “stop using minors in their desperate and dirty war versus the people” as well as to be held accountable for this “condemnable violation.” He encouraged the media to note how Gen. Holganza and Capt. Garcia would likely “concoct another tale to distort CAFGU Latiban’s story.” Sanchez explained that the AFP “propaganda machine” has been going out of its way to twist the truth in the matter of using child combatant, when “the fact stands that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which wields absolute political leadership over the NPA has long been implementing a no-under-18 national policy in accepting full-time Red fighters mainly from the peasantry.”
Aside from 17-year old Juve Latiban, the NPA said they have also arrested S/Sgt. Bienvenido Gentugao Arguelles Jr. (Serial No. 779878) of the 25th Infantry Battalion-AFP. Arguelles is currently being held as an NPA’s prisoner-of-war, but Sanchez assured the public that they are complying with the National Democratic Front’s “Unilateral Undertaking to Implement Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions.” He said an NPA custodial unit is observing “proper procedures” to ascertain Sgt. Arguelles’ possible violation of people’s rights and international humanitarian law in his direct participation in the Government of the Republic of the Philippines’ “counterrevolutionary and anti-people war.” (M. Salamat/bulatlat.com)