For decades the country has contended with armed Muslim separatist movements supported by paramilitary organizations such as the MILF and the MNLF, a communist insurgency supported by a nationwide NPA presence, and violence from smaller, transnational terrorist organizations (such as the ASG and the JI) as well as from criminal syndicates. During the year government forces killed a number of civilians during clashes with these groups. There were continued complaints that the AFP, in confronting the ASG and NPA, illegally detained citizens, destroyed houses, and displaced residents. Clashes between the AFP and separatist forces as well as incidents of interclan violence continued in Mindanao and resulted in civilian deaths and the displacement of thousands of individuals.
On September 9, a standoff ensued when an estimated 180 to 400 members of the MNLF took at least 100 residents of Zamboanga City hostage and used them as human shields in the neighborhoods of Santa Catalina and Santa Barbara. Sporadic clashes between government troops and the insurgents left more than 137 persons (105 rebels, 18 soldiers, five police officers, and nine civilians) killed as of September 15.
The 2012 framework peace agreement between the government and the MILF called for both sides to complete the agreement’s four related annexes within one year, but the parties had completed only two of the four annexes as of October. A final agreement would form a new, autonomous political entity named “Bangsamoro” (Moro Nation). Citizens would be required to opt in via a plebiscite in the Muslim majority areas of Mindanao.
Killings: Government forces continued to acknowledge civilian deaths in the course of their military operations against the MILF, MNLF, NPA, and other insurgent groups. From January to August, AFP operations killed 29 suspected ASG members. From January to October the PNP reported killing 298 MNLF, NPA, and ASG militants in the course of its operations.
Antigovernment groups continued to be responsible for killing AFP soldiers, police, and civilians. The AFP reported that 11 of its members were killed in action during encounters with ASG members during the year. The PNP reported that NPA militants killed 23 PNP personnel as of October.
Muslim separatists, including the NPA and elements of the MILF including the breakaway faction BIFF, continued to use roadside bombs, ambushes, and other means to kill political figures, military and police officers, and civilians including persons suspected of being military and police informers. On March 2, the NPA admitted killing a village police officer who supported military operations in Davao City. On June 20, the NPA admitted killing five civilians, whom they abducted during a raid in a wood firm in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, for their involvement in banditry and other human rights violations. On July 26, BIFF militants allegedly bombed a bar and restaurant which killed eight and wounded 46.
Elements of the MILF, the BIFF, and terrorist groups, including the NPA, the ASG, and JI, also harassed government offices and attacked or threatened businesses, farms, and private communication facilities to enforce the collection of extrajudicial protection payments or “revolutionary taxes.” For example, on September 7, suspected ASG members ambushed and killed six rubber plantation workers in Sumisip municipality, Basilan Province. The workers reportedly refused to pay extortion.
Abductions: Various armed criminal and terrorist groups, including the ASG in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, continued to kidnap civilians. Authorities often ransomed or rescued victims. According to media reports, from January to October, the ASG, the NPA, and other kidnap-for-ransom groups abducted 20 individuals (seven government workers and security personnel, four businessmen, two NGO workers, and seven civilians) in several areas of Mindanao (Sulu provinces, Basilan, Agusan del Sur, and the Zamboanga Peninsula). As of October, 15 were either rescued or released, and five remained missing or captive.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Leftist and human-rights activists continued to report harassment by local security forces, including rape and abuse of detainees by police and prison officials.
Child Soldiers: On August 2, the president signed Executive Order No. 138, amending Executive Order No. 56 (S. 2001), which aims to further strengthen the government’s program for the protection of children against armed hostilities. E.O. 138 places the Inter-Agency Committee on Children in Armed Conflict (IAC-CIAC) under the direct supervision of the Council for the Welfare of Children, instead of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. Under this directive the council is the lead agency in the implementation of the CIAC Program Framework, which addresses the involvement of children in armed conflict. The order also formalized the establishment of a Monitoring, Reporting, and Response System for Grave Child Rights Violations in Situations in Armed Conflict to act as the monitoring arm within the CIAC program framework with the primary objective of protecting children in situations of armed conflict by preventing the occurrence of grave child rights violations.
The UN, through its local UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) agency, monitored incidents of the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts and worked to verify these incidents during the year. Mechanisms for government reporting on children associated with armed conflict continued to be inconsistent between agencies and regions, especially in conflict-affected areas, due to security concerns, which made it difficult to evaluate this problem’s scope.
The May 15 report by the UN secretary-general to the UN Security Council noted a decrease in the number of cases of recruitment and use of children by armed groups between 2011 and 2012 (from 54 to 26 children). The Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting documented 11 incidents involving 23 boys and three girls in 2012, the most recent year for which information was available. Of those cases, 11 were reportedly recruited and used by the NPA, 11 by the ASG, two by the MILF, and two by the AFP. The report noted that despite the 2009 action plan signed between the MILF and the UN, the MILF base commands continued to provide training, weapons, and uniforms to children and used them as guides, messengers, and porters. For example, in July 2012 a 16-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl were recruited by the 103rd base command in Lanao del Sur Province, provided with martial arts training, and assigned to weapons maintenance.
The UN continued to receive credible reports that the BIFF was actively training and providing weapons to children.
The NPA continued to claim that it did not recruit children as combatants but admitted that it recruited, trained, and used them for noncombat purposes. The country task force also verified two incidents of recruitment and use of children by the ASG in Sulu and Basilan, involving 11 boys between 13 and 16 years of age. In September 2012 a 13-year-old boy armed with a grenade launcher was killed during an armed encounter with the AFP in Sumisip municipality, Basilan Province.
According to the country task force report, the UN remained concerned over the use of children by the AFP as guides and informants during military operations. The task force verified a July 2012 case wherein the 57th Infantry Battalion forced two boys ages 12 and 13 to serve as guides to locate an NPA camp in North Cotabato Province. The CHR undertook an investigation, which found that the boys were returned to their homes after a few hours, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) provided social services to their families.
Although the UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict and the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the country’s Communist Party, agreed in 2011 to develop an action plan, they did not finalize a framework as of August.
See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: There were media reports that the NPA and separatist groups set fire to villages and used residents as human shields. The NPA and some separatist groups were responsible for a number of arbitrary detentions, including kidnappings and hostage taking for ransom.
The AFP sometimes used civilian facilities, such as schools, to house soldiers overnight during military operations in remote areas. In July the AFP developed new guidelines for sheltering in schools.
The NPA, the ASG, and JI targeted mining and other extractive industries for extortion and were suspected of trafficking illegally obtained products, including timber.
The NPA continued to subject military personnel, police, local politicians, and other persons to its so-called courts for “crimes against the people,” often in absentia, and to justify some of its killings as executions of “defendants” who had been found guilty. The MILF also maintained its own “people’s courts.”