What Sotto should have asked Taguiwalo
Should Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo back off from protecting child soldiers and refuse to disavow the New People’s Army when asked pointblank? Sen. Tito Sotto should have asked these during Taguiwalo’s confirmation hearing, not made inane jokes on how the single mother’s two daughters were the result of her being “na-ano.”
The NPA recruited 6-year-old “Dodong” from Mati, Davao Oriental. He surrendered to soldiers when he was 11. By then, he had laid explosives along highways and joined at least six gun battles.
The NPA recruited “Aida” when she was about 15. Instead of attending high school, she learned to fire an M16 and evade military raids. When the Army captured her, she was an NPA squad leader and radio operator.
House Bill No. 1280, among several others, aims to protect the Dodongs and Aidas of the Philippines from armed groups such as the NPA, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. All three have recruited children for decades. All three are listed by the United Nations Secretary General as recruiters of child soldiers.
Section 5(i) defines “children involved in armed conflict” as those who were forced to join or voluntarily joined a government or nonstate armed force “in any capacity to participate directly in armed hostilities as combatants or fighters, or take support roles such as scouting, spying, sabotaging, acting as decoys, assisting in check points, acting as couriers, messengers, porters, cooks, and being sexually abused.”
The proposed law imposes heavy penalties for offenders. It provides several protections for former child soldiers, including psychosocial and medical intervention and livelihood programs.
The idea of a Filipino child carrying a rifle in a jungle instead of being in a classroom is so much more abominable than Sotto’s crass humor. HB 1280 should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it has been repeatedly lost in the congressional shuffle.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development was one of its most ardent supporters. Prior to Taguiwalo’s nomination, the DSWD issued a position paper to explain to legislators just how vulnerable the Dodongs and the Aidas are.
But after Taguiwalo’s nomination, the DSWD inexplicably withdrew this key position paper. This likely doomed the no-brainer legal measure to protect one of our country’s most vulnerable yet least visible segments of the child population.
The DSWD’s disappointing withdrawal of support for HB 1280 must be questioned in the context of Taguiwalo’s potential policy agenda. For example, Sen. Franklin Drilon asked her to categorically denounce the armed violence perpetrated by the NPA during the hearing. She did not, and instead indirectly cited her background as an activist.
Such a refusal from a Cabinet secretary to renounce violence should have shocked us far more than Sotto’s tasteless humor. The NPA has consistently put children in harm’s way throughout its 40-plus-year insurgency. The attitude on the NPA of a nominee to head the DSWD, to become the guardian of all Filipino children, is extremely relevant.
I hope Taguiwalo and our legislators give future Dodongs and Aidas a better punch line, because the real joke is how the DSWD dropped support for a key child protection bill.
Should we not ask how Taguiwalo might approach other issues, despite her strong credentials?
The Commission on Appointments did its job by asking Taguiwalo real questions, just as it asked Gina Lopez, whose nomination as environment secretary it recently rejected, tough questions on whether she disregarded legal rights in closing mines. Sadly, despite the unprecedented scrutiny of the confirmation process, the superficial debate on Twitter focuses solely on Sotto’s street lingo.
Jaime C.N. Arroyo, now a private law practitioner, has been a child right’s advocate since 1999, having worked with Katrina Legarda, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the Human Rights Victims Claims Board, and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
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