An open letter to the President of the Philippines
HIS EXCELLENCY BENIGNO ‘NOYNOY’ AQUINO III
Republic of the Philippines
Dear President Aquino,
The Civil Society Coalition on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (NGO Coalition CRC) joins the urgent call to resolve the recurring violation of the Lumad children’s right to education among Children in Situations with Armed Conflict (CSAC) as enshrined in the United Nations on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Twenty-five years ago, the Philippine government ratified the CRC. As State Party to the Convention, the Philippine government reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN Committee) on its progress of implementation, gaps and achievements. The UN Committee provides recommendations after the review of the state report and published these as their ‘Concluding Observations.’ The recent Concluding Observations (2009) on the Philippines significantly cited the issue of lack of schools for indigenous communities and of teachers.
The Lumad people, with some support from church groups and various non-governmental organizations, set up schools to fill this gap.
However, the Children’s Rehabilitation Center has documented cases of attacks and/or use of public places (Barangay Halls, health centers and places of worship) for other purposes near these schools by state and non-state actors; thus, violating children and people’s rights. From July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2014, 52 cases were documented, directly affecting 2,697 children, as reported by the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns. Among the schools noted as targets were: the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Early Childhood Education School in Kalasagan, Davao Oriental; Salugpongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center in Compostela Town, Compostela Valley Province Province; Salugpongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center and Nasilaban Elementary School (a DepEd school) in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Child rights organizations were able to document the following violations:
– attack on schools, religious, medical and in public places;
– and similar threats against child rights defenders and civil society support groups
Various indigenous communities in the abovementioned areas and the NGOs assisting them have expressed outrage and indignation over the violence launched in Lumad schools, and have called for the immediate cessation of these abuses/harms to protect the children and uphold their right to education.
Lumad children themselves have implored you, Mr. President, to protect their schools from harassment allegedly perpetrated by government forces, as reported in the Philippine Star on 12 October 2015, and their voices need to be heard.
Civil society initiatives in support of education for indigenous communities should be recognized by the government as a major contribution, and these efforts must be fully promoted and protected.
As a signatory to the CRC, the Philippine government has the responsibility to uphold, fulfill, respect and protect the rights of all Filipino children. Articles 28 and 36 specifically articulate the children’s right to education and their protection from any activity that could harm their welfare and development. Any aggression aimed at schools is a clear violation of the CRC. The UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, has underscored that schools and hospitals are zones of peace and any attack on these establishments is considered a grave violation and must be immediately arrested.
General Comment No. 1: The Aims of Education, adopted by the UN Committee highlights the role of the State in the child’s development, which includes “respect for human rights” and “an enhanced sense of identity and affiliation.”
In a statement on the issue of Lumad killings, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has also asserted state responsibility “where persons acting in behalf of the State commit some actionable wrong, and the State hesitates about acting or, worse, refuses to act.”
In solidarity with these principles, the Coalition urges the following courses of action:
– Uphold international and national laws that promote and protect child rights while addressing the gaps that these issues have magnified; among them, the need for a policy that explicitly demands the outright ban on military operations in schools in place of the existing Department of Education (DepEd) Memorandum 221 on the Guidelines on the Protection of Children During Armed Conflict issued in 2013; and the implementation of Republic Act. No. 8731 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) in view of violations linked to development projects that allow mining and logging on ancestral lands.
– Immediately pull out military operations in affected areas and hold people who aggress against schools accountable for their offenses;
– Provide for the basic needs and extend psychosocial support to families who have fled their homes due to the violence in their communities and ensure their safe return to their ancestral lands;
– Provide access to education in far flung areas, where many children from indigenous communities reside;
– Sign the Safe Schools Declaration, a document which shows the commitment of countries to support the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict; and
– Ensure that the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use During Armed Conflict are followed.
We trust that the President, in the interest of human rights and good governance, will lead the way in compliance to this obligation.
Very truly yours,
Civil Society Coalition on the Convention on the Rights of the Child(NGO Coalition CRC)
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