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Philippine News Digest 108

April 13, 2007 · 

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Contents:
-Rights group says military ‘child warrior’ yarn untrue
-Kin, friends of slain girl say she’s no communist rebel
-Rights group to bring ‘child warrior’ case to UN

Rights group says military ‘child warrior’ yarn untrue
Philippine Daily Inquirer
04/06/07

MANILA, Philippines — A human rights group refuted military claims of having killed a New People’s Army (NPA) “child warrior” in a March 31 clash, saying the victim had been bathing in a river when she was killed.

Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), in an urgent action alert it issued, also said Gracel Galacio was only 9-years old, not 12 as the military claimed in news reports. The military also identified the girl as Graciel Buya, which the rights group said it the family name of her mother.

According to the military, aside from the girl, Army Private First Class (PFC) Ruben Bracera was also slain in the alleged clash in sitio (sub-village) Simsim, Kahayag village, New Bataan town, Compostela Valley.

The military claimed “the child was spotted earlier in the area [where the class occurred] with her M16 [rifle],” and was killed when “the soldiers had to fire back at the creek area from where the heavy fire that hit PFC Bracera was coming from.”

It held up the incident as proof of “the NPA’s continuing program to recruit minors as their combatants,” adding that three other M16s and two M14 rifles were recovered by the troops while a homemade shotgun, M14 ammunition, combat gear and subversive documents were later taken when the girl’s home was raided.

However, in its alert, Karapatan said around 8 a.m. the day of the incident, Gracel and brother Gary, 6, “asked permission from their parents Gregorio Galacio and Virginia Buya to go to the nearby river to take a bath.”

Kin, friends of slain girl say she’s no communist rebel
by: Jeffrey M. Tupas, Mindanao Bureau
Philippine daily Inquirer
04/09/0

COMPOSTELA VALLEY, Philippines — Nine-year-old Grecil Galacio had to peep through her neighbors’ windows to watch her favorite noontime TV show. She was the family’s entertainer staging mini-variety shows and belting out melodramatic songs.

At home, Pacita Galacio described her daughter as a typical child who had her own episodes of misbehaviors and misfortunes.

“She was very playful and naughty. Often times her focus was on playing children’s games than being in the classroom that our attention was called by the teacher,” Pacita said.

Grecil had just finished Grade 2 at the Simsimen Elementary School. She was known by friends as someone who could perfectly enact the dance moves performed every weekday by the female dancers of Wowowee, a noontime TV game show on ABS-CBN. One of her friends, Lea May, said Grecil adored Willie Revillame, Wowowee’s host, for his jokes and songs.

Last school year, Pacita said, her daughter became a school drop-out after her grades deteriorated because she was hooked on damang-damang (hunting for “fighting” spiders), a craze popular among children, mostly males.

But Grecil did well this year and her parents were elated when she announced that she got three awards to be given out during the school’s Recognition Day on March 27 — Most Neat, Most Clean, and With Honors.

Pacita and her husband were proud and excited because it meant pinning three ribbons on their eldest daughter who dreamed of making it big as a nurse or a doctor.

But the girl spoiled her parents’ excitement this time.

On the morning of March 27, she went fishing in the nearby river — just about 25 meters down their house — and missed the recognition of honors happening at the school. She told her parents that the event would be in the afternoon and because of the blunder, she confessed that she had actually mixed up the time.

Four days later, as Grecil was pacing between the house and the river while warmly accommodating six visitors, two of them women who bathed at the river, a bullet pierced through her right elbow and another bullet blasted her head off.

News about Grecil’s death on March 31 was still sketchy and unconfirmed. She was initially reported as an 11-year old boy. Later in the afternoon, the gender was changed from boy to girl.

The only thing consistent until recently was that the girl was a member of the New People’s Army, something that had been vehemently denied by her parents.

Brigadier General Carlos Holganza, commander of the military’s 101st Infantry Brigade, said he was standing by the report of his men that Grecil was a rebel at this point and that the fatal shooting was part of a legitimate encounter with communist insurgents.

He, however, said he was not completely dismissing the possibility that Grecil was only caught in the crossfire.

“That she was caught in the crossfire is not impossible. And if she was an NPA rebel, my point is that she is not supposed to be armed or allowed to hold a firearm because she is a minor. I am appealing to the leadership of the NPA to stop using child combatants,” Holganza said.

Holganza said that before the actual encounter, which according to the villagers lasted for about two hours, the girl was seen carrying a long firearm.

“The child was sighted carrying a long firearm. The question now is, if she was not an NPA combatant, why would the other NPA combatants allow her to handle the long firearm?” Holganza told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a telephone interview.

Asked whether it was possible for a nine-year old girl to carry a long firearm, Holganza said that “even a five-year old kid can do that.” The length of an M-16 A2 rifle is exactly 39.60 inches, about the height of Grecil.

But anyone who was close to Grecil — her family and her friends at school — asserted that the girl was not a communist guerilla.

“Nine years old!? NPA? My God! That is an incrimination of the military against my daughter. She was accused of handling a long firearm but how could that be when my daughter does not know anything about guns at all! My daughter is not an NPA cadre,” Pacita said.

The girl’s friend, Lea May, insisted Grecil was her classmate. “You can ask anyone, she was a pupil attending classes in the school. She was in Grade 2,” she said.

Even the village chair, Eulogio Almasa, said he could not believe the allegations being hurled against Grecil and her family. “One hundred percent she was not a member of the NPA,” he said.

Almasa was the one who retrieved the lifeless Grecil in front of their house at around 2 p.m. and brought it to her family who evacuated to the school. He recalled that he never saw a firearm beside the dead girl’s body, contrary to the claim of the military.

The human rights group Karapatan-Southern Mindanao said the military should be made to answer for the death of a minor and a civilian.

Kelly Delgado, secretary general of Karapatan Southern Mindanao, said military’s claim that the child was a communist rebel was a shameless way to justify her death.

This mode of operations, he said, grossly violated the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the Geneva Conventions-Protocol 1 and 2 mandating armed parties to distinguish civilians and combatants.

The military has so far extended P1,100 as cash assistance to Grecil’s family.

Rights group to bring ‘child warrior’ case to UN
by: TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
-04/09/07

MANILA, Philippines — The human rights group Karapatan is set to file a complaint with the United Nations against the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the killing of a nine-year-old girl during a military operation in Compostela Valley last month and then claiming she was a child-warrior in the communist New People’s Army.

“What’s sad is that after killing her, the military even portrayed her as a child-warrior,” Karapatan secretary general Marie Hilao Enriquez said at a press briefing.

“She could barely carry a rifle,” Enriquez added.

Grecil Buya Galacio was killed during a clash between soldiers and NPA members in the remote village of Kahayag, New Bataan town, in the morning of March 31.

The military identified Galacio as a combatant and said she had been carrying an M-16 rifle.

Communist Party of the Philippines spokesperson Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, however, scoffed at this and charged the military with covering up a crime.

Enriquez said Karapatan would file a complaint with the UN’s International Convention on the Rights of a Child as well as the local Commission on Human Rights over Galacio’s killing and her portrayal as a young rebel.

She said the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) would also look into the killing.

Galacio had just completed the second grade at Simsimin Elementary School in New Bataan. Her parents, Gregorio and Virginia, were farmers, Karapatan said.

According to reports reaching the human rights group, Galacio and her six-year-old brother, Gary, had gone to the river near their house to bathe. Minutes later, the crackle of gunfire was heard but only Gary made it home safely.

Frightened, the Galacio couple, together with Gary and two other daughters, ran out of their house for a safer place.

Grecil was later found dead a few meters from the house with gunshot wounds in the head and right elbow.

The soldiers had reportedly gone to village chair Eulogio Almasa and showed him a picture of Grecil with an M-16 rifle by her side.

But when Almasa and some neighbors went to the site, they did not see a rifle next to Grecil’s body, Karapatan said, quoting from the reports.

“The rifle was about her size, she could have barely carried it,” Enriquez said.

-End-

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