Children embody the most compelling justification for the existence of states: to protect its most vulnerable charges as it would preserve itself. For what is a state without children, if not on the brink of extinction. The Philippine Government seriously takes its role as protector of children. The Constitution requires it to do so. But more than the demands of law, Philippine society has accorded children a hallowed place, as treasured assets whose survival must be ensured and whose fullest potential must be fulfilled.
Children do not belong in a battlefield; they have the right not to know firsthand the horrors of war. But it is indeed a harsh reality that far too many children are forced to experience war. In the case of Marawi in Southern Philippines, children were recruited by armed rebels to be fighters, couriers, guides or spies.
We are proud that the Government has re-taken Marawi from ISIS in a relatively short time. We denounce with indignation the use of children by criminal groups and we lament the loss of children’s lives. The Government has intensified reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration in Marawi, including expeditiously clearing the place of unexploded explosives to avoid further casualties and injuries, especially to children.
The establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law will pave the way for lasting peace in the region. We note the readiness of the United Nations to help build its capacity to achieve peace, democratic governance and respect for human and children’s rights.
The Philippine Armed Forces issued and committed itself to the circular on Child Protection in Armed Conflict Situations, its policy guide in preventing grave child’s rights violations. It reaffirms its moral and legal commitment to ensure that children affected by armed conflict are afforded special protection and entitled to special respect.
This principle is enshrined in the Philippine Government’s enactment in January of this year of Republic Act 11188 titled the Special Protection of Children in Armed Conflict Act. This law reaffirms that children are zones of peace and cannot be recruited into government forces or be allowed to participate in armed conflict. They must be treated as victims, not enemies, and be protected from maiming, torture, abduction, rape or killing. They must be treated humanely in all circumstances and should never be objects of attack. Communities, government authorities and, if applicable, religious leadership, are required to preserve the peaceful integrity of children.
The new law also prohibits attack on schools, hospitals, places of worships, child development or daycare centers, playgrounds and recreation parks. The Government denounces the use by rebel groups of schools to foster their ideology of war and make soldiers out of children. The Government renews its solemn responsibility to protect the most vulnerable, the children, against these malignant forces by any means efficient to achieve the defining purpose for the existence and expense of a state.
Aligning ourselves with the statement to be delivered by Vietnam on behalf of ASEAN, the Philippines congratulates Poland on its Presidency of this body. The Philippines will continue to work with Special Representative Gamba, with UN agencies and other stakeholders in pursuing our common aspiration that no child will ever have to experience the horrors of war again.
Thank you, Madame President.