IPs killed in clash exploited by NPA – Esperon
By Dempsey Reyes / The Manila Times
Members of indigenous groups who were killed last week in a Surigao del Sur encounter would not have died if they weren't exploited by the New People's Army (NPA), National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said on Monday.
Esperon likewise blamed some learning institutions for indigenous peoples (IPs) for recruiting children as rebels.
Esperon was referring to last week's Lianga, Surigao del Sur encounter wherein three IP individuals, including a 12-year-old girl, were slain with the military alleging them of being NPA rebels while human rights group Karapatan said they were IP farmers.
"First of all, may I express my condolences to the families of our IPs who have passed away and who suffered the ultimate [price]...simply because of the fact they have been exploited by the communist-terrorist group," he said in a virtual press conference.
Esperon claimed the NPA needed to recruit IPs, saying around 70 to 75 percent of communist rebels in Mindanao were from indigenous groups. Apart from this figure, he also cited data by the Philippine Army's 10th Infantry Division (ID) which recorded 87 percent of surrendering rebels belong to IP groups.
The plan to recruit among IP groups was intentional on the part of the NPA with some IP schools being used to "radicalize" children, he added. Some of the examples he cited were the Alcadev and Salugpungan schools, some of which had been shut down by the Department of Education.
He noted the 10th ID's data showed minors were among the surrendering rebels, mostly aged 10 to 12 years old and kids reaching third to sixth grade.
"Once the children reach the age of 10 to 12 years old, they are being brought [by the NPA] to be used as fighters, beginning from carrying things until they learn how to use a gun," Esperon said. "You can never really learn in those Salugpungan schools except for the children being radicalized so upon reaching the right age, they will be told to use guns."
Another group he slammed was the Save Our Schools (SOS) network, a network of child-focused nongovernmental organizations, church-based groups and other stakeholders pushing for children's rights to education.
Esperon accused the SOS of soliciting funds from the international community he said were being diverted to schools he claimed of being controlled by communist rebels.
Esperon was particularly mad over the group's message to foreign counterparts that supposedly points out the Philippine government's lack of response for IP children.
"We can see from the group's messages what they are really doing by getting funds through delivery of wrong information to the international community. So, they keep on soliciting funds, but what they are not telling the donors is most of those funds go to the NPA," he said.