MANILA -- The Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Council of Elders (MIPCEL), together with some former youth rebels, on Thursday insisted that the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) has been recruiting minors from the hinterlands of Mindanao to join the leftist movement.
Asenad Bago, 20, a former student of a Salugpungan Learning Center in Talaingod and a former member of the CPP-NPA, said the group starts the recruitment in schools where parents entrust their children to live and study for years.
"Kapag nag-aral ka roon, lahat ng kapatid mo at magulang mo, magpirma (sila) na 'di ka uuwi sa magulang mo, at doon ka lang sa eskuwelahan (When you enroll there, your parents, even your siblings, must sign allowing you to stay at the school for a long period)," he said in an interview.
Bago said this effectively indoctrinates minors who are away from their parents' guidance.
"Kung mag-sem break kami sa Davao na, kasama ang mga NPA (When we take a semestral break, we often spend it in Davao together with the NPA)," he said.
The first time he entered the wooden Salugpungan structure, which he called school, the 20-year-old Manobo believed it will be the first step toward his dream job, to be an engineer.
Bago said he was taught mathematics, and how to read and write inside the school, but he also learned ways how to dismantle weapons. More often, he led some 20 or more students his age to hold a demonstration protest in Davao City, sometimes in Kidapawan, and Cagayan de Oro.
"Ang mga kasama namin, minsan pupunta rito sa Maynila at doon sa Surigao del Sur. Kung minsan mga 20 kami at ako 'yong nagma-manage sa mga bata papunta, mga 14 pataas (Others often visit Manila and some in Surigao del Sur to hold rallies. At times, we are around 20 people and I personally manage the children coming with me, they are 14 years old and above)," he recalled.
Datu Awing Apoga, 25, a son of the Salugpungan school founder, said he was 12 years old when he became active in the movement.
"Gusto ko na rin noon, talagang napalagay sa isip ko na talagang kung makarinig ako ng government, gusto kong patayin na lahat (I liked it then and I conditioned my mind that if ever I hear the word 'government', I would kill all of them),"he said, although he denied ever killing a person.
"Nakahawak na ako ng baril, pero wala (akong pinatay). Pero yung mga ano namin, kaklase ko po (I already held a gun, but I have never killed anyone. But my classmates had done it)," he admitted.
In 2015, Apoga recalled how they were brought to Manila to air their concerns and demands. He stayed in the city for at least a month.
"Nagsigaw-sigaw kami rito na tulungan niyo kami, magpagawa kami ng daan, kalsada (We yelled when were here. We demanded that roads be built for us)," he said.
"Hindi pa kami nakauwi sa amin, naka-prepare na ang gagawa ng kalsada roon. 'Pag uwi namin, nandoon na, mga dalawang araw lang kaming nakauwi sa amin, sinunog na nila ang backhoe, 'yong mga NPA po (We did not come back for a month, but they are already preparing the roadwork there. When we came home, we only stayed for two days and they're already burning the backhoe)," he added.
Apoga said he was more active in rallies and it was also during a demonstration when realization hit him.
"Naisipan ko bakit napunta kami rito sa Manila, naglakbay kami kahit mainit sa mga daan para magsisigaw, pero 'yang mga isinisigaw namin hindi naman totoo 'yan (I asked what we are doing in Manila, we walked the streets even though it was hot, our demands were not even true)," he confessed.
"Doon ko na-realize, 'di na ako...ayoko na. Hindi nakabubuti sa amin (That's when I realized, this is it. I don't want this anymore. It's not really helping us)," he said.
In a press conference at the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Manila, MIPCEL chairman Lipatuan Joel Unad said the NPA targets communities where settlers are particularly uneducated.
"Pinipili nila (ang) mga ignoranteng tribo, doon sa mga 'di marunong magbasa, doon sa mga parents na walang alam kundi magtanim ng kamote, maghanap ng usa at baboy ramo, iyon ang pinupuntahan nila (They choose those ignorant tribes. Those who don't know who to read, whose parents' only livelihood is to plant sweet potatoes, to hunt for deer and wild boars. That's their target)," he said.
Showing parts of the MIPCEL Resolution No. 20, Series of 2018, Unad, who personally submitted the document at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) office in Quezon City, urges the body and other groups to start a probe over alleged human rights violation against IPs in the region.
Unad said the 52 IP signatories to the resolution represent 18 major tribes in Mindanao.
"'Yong nag-attend ng emergency meeting almost 51. Ang context doon, i-condemn ang ginawa ni Satur Ocampo. Pangalawa, declaration na kailangan ipasara na ng DepEd (Department of Education) ang Salugpungan, kung hindi nila maipasara, ang IP mismo ang magpapasara (Thos who attended the emergency meeting reached almost 51. Its context is to condemn the actions of Satur Ocampo. Second, a declaration that the DepEd must close Salupungan. If it can't close it down, the IPs would close it for them)," he said.
Unad and Datu Jomar Bucales submitted the MIPCEL resolution before the CHR office Thursday.
The resolution surfaced right after former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and 17 others were arrested over alleged trafficking and kidnapping of 14 minors who were students of the Salugpungan Ta'Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc.
Ocampo denied the kidnapping, claiming their group was in Talaingod to bring food and other supplies at the learning center.
In a recent interview, he also belied reports on the leftist movement recruitment of children, citing a "rule" of the CPP-NPA against enlistment of minors. (JR/PNA)