CHILDREN'S Rights groups on Wednesday expressed alarm on the alleged recruitment and use of children by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to boost its counter insurgency program.

Kabiba Alliance for Children's Concerns (Kabiba) and Children Rehab Center for Davao Region (CRC) raised their concern on child warriors, specifically about the recently released Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) who's allegedly still a minor.

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Kabiba executive secretary Honey May Idul-Suazo said Juve Latiban, who was held captive by elements of the New People's Army June 19, has inconsistencies in his statements, which should be investigated by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Latiban, abducted at Monkayo, Compostela Valley Province along with army Staff Sergeant Bienvenido Arguelles, was released July 16 and told the media he was recruited into the Cafgu when he was only 15 years old, along with other 18 minors in the camp of 1001st Infantry Brigade-10th ID in 2008.

His birth certificate, provided by his mother, showed that he was born on 1992. But last July 19, Latiban's mother said in an interview that his son's birth certificate has false facts. She added that Latiban was actually born in 1990 and that she failed to register his son immediately.

"We in Kabiba, although we actually only relied on the reports on TV, we offer therapies for children and we have psychiatrists. Our psychiatrists could tell, even if it was only on TV, that there were non verbal indications saying perhaps what was said was not true," Suazo said in an interview.

"Other than that, our concern really is from July 16 to July 19 asan yung bata, hindi ba nasa loob ng Camp Panacan. He should have been released to the parents, his family, or the DSWD and not inside the military camp," Suazo said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Army's 10th Infantry Battalion spokesperson Captain Emmanuel Garcia said they too are conducting an investigation on the matter.

Progressive group Bayan also expressed their dismay on the matter, but admitted that the AFP "is not alone in receiving accusations of resorting to child warriors."

"The MILF and the NPA also receive this accusation. Although we have no concrete details on this, what's important is the AFP would answer the accusation. They should not limit to finding out how this happened but do their responsibility in not allowing children to get involved in war," Bayan spokesperson John Birondo said.

Suazo said they will focus on this case as it is working with its member organizations such as the CRC in implementing the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) of the United Nations, which is a product of several years of focused attention on the plight of children affected by armed conflict.

CRC regional project director Girley Layaguin said the case of Latiban "is not the first incident because previous MRM engagements had documented and reported that military personnel of AFP have been repeatedly involved in using children in military operations and recruiting minors into Cafgu."

Layaguin said previous incidents verified and reported to the United Nations Security Council on the involvement of minors in armed conflict in the Philippines are the following:

* December 2007, members of the 16th and 59th Infantry Battalions recruited minors of the indigenous tribe in Quezon Province

* January 2008, a 17-year old boy from Barcelona, Sorsogon was used by members of the 3rd Scout Rangers Battalions to carry their backpacks during military operations

Kabiba is also calling on the AFP to stop branding children victims of armed conflict as child soldiers. Such was the case Grecil Buya, a 9-year-old girl that was killed when government troops clashed with NPA guerillas in New Bataan, Compostela Valley.

Her body was photographed with a rifle and was presented by the military to the media as an NPA child combatant.

But General Carlos Holganza, now 10th ID chief, retracted his statement about Grecil after he was proven wrong by the girl's parents and relatives, child-focused groups, and the Commission on Human Rights. (Jade C. Zaldivar)