September 7, 2019

#TPonMB: Policy suggestions to prevent the recruitment of Filipino youth into rebel groups

Several parents of senior high school students testified in a series of Senate hearings that leftist groups believed to fronts for the communist insurgent New People’s Army (NPA) are recruiting their children. And true enough, some of kids really went to the mountains and have become combatants for the rebel group.

I disagree with Leftist ideologies (I consider myself a Centrist) but I recognize every person’s right to have her own political views. Advocacy of leftist ideologies is not by itself illegal, but it should stop when it’s about to lead our youth, most especially our very impressionable minors, into a life of violence.

Whenever I point out a problem, I always try to propose a solution.

Thus, here are several policy recommendations in relation to the issue:

[NOTE: This piece was first published in the Manila Bulletin on 17 August 2019].

FIRST, the state can set additional limitations on minors’ right to freedom of association.

The state recognizes the reality young Filipinos are not yet fully capable of independently making marriage decisions, so the Family Code (EO 209 s. 1987) requires adults aged 18 to 21 to secure notarized parental consent before they are legally allowed to marry.

The decision to go to the mountains and take up arms against the Government is much more serious than deciding to settle down. Just like what the Family Code with respect to marriage, the state can exercise parens patriae jurisdiction over our youth, to prevent them from making decisions that may destroy their future.

SECOND, schools can dissolve campus organizations that are known to advocate sedition and violence.

Liberality of school administrations vary widely but I believe that we can all agree that advocacy of illegal acts like sedition and rebellion is out of the question. Schools must immediately dissolve campus orgs as soon as they call for, say, the downfall of the government (e.g. “Ibagsak!”). DepEd and CHED, meanwhile, can take appropriate action against schools that neglect to do so.

THIRD, revoke legal recognition for organizations that encourage illegal acts.

Similar to the suggestion to schools, let us enable the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to revoke the corporate registration of organizations that are known to call for the government’s downfall. Criticizing the government and its policies is one thing, but to call for its utter destruction is another. While we’re at it, it may be high time to amend the Party-list Act (RA 7941) to exclude organizations that are known to advocate violence, or known to vocally support and/or tolerate groups that do so.

FOURTH, inclusion of insurgency-related topics in primary and secondary education.

Being a native of rural Bulacan, I was aware of massive NPA presence in Doña Remedios Trinidad town in the early 1990s because elders talk about it all the time. But that’s about it. I didn’t know that they extorted revolutionary taxes from innocent small businessmen, that they burn farm machinery, etc. Our children should be made aware of these things so they can make better decisions when NPA recruiters approach them later in life.

The government should also use its mass media assets to disseminate such information. Sadly, the President’s own communications team (PCOO) does nothing significant in this regard. To this day, I have yet to see anything on TV, radio, print, or online that even remotely dissuades kids from joining the NPA. I strongly believe that it’s more important for PCOO to explain the scourge of violent resistance to Filipinos than to Bosnians.

FIFTH, amend the Human Security Act and the Anti-money Laundering Act (AMLA).

Section 18 of the Human Security Act (RA 9372) can be amended to extend the period of detention without Judicial Warrant of Arrest from just three days to at least a week for terrorism suspects.

Terrorism is best proven by retracing paper trails, and three days is simply too short for it. Imagine a terrorist that was arrested on a Friday night. Banks are closed during the weekends so law enforcement will have only one day (that’s a Monday) to do all the work. That’s impossible.

With that said, AMLA should also be amended to include an exception on the predicate crime requirement if the offense is terrorism, albeit with additional safeguards to prevent authorities from using this for politicking. To this end, we can set harsher penalties for authorities who use AMLA-sourced anti-terrorism information for purposes other than countering terrorism.

To this day, I have yet to learn of persons in their late 20s or 30s who somehow had an epiphany of sorts and decided to join the NPA. In my best knowledge, NPA’s new recruits are mostly those in their late teens and early twenties, i.e., young adults who are desperate to find meaning in their existence and to find their place in this world.

Let’s build a framework that allows these children to learn that there are far better choices than taking up arms and shooting fellow Filipinos, because I know for a fact that there are.

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