NOW SAFE. Two minors suspected of being members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army were rescued during an encounter in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental on Jan. 15, 2022. They are now in the custody of the Guihulngan City Social Welfare and Development Office. (Photos courtesy of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army)

DUMAGUETE CITY – Two minors who were rescued from the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) during a weekend clash with government troops in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental are now in the custody of the local Social Welfare and Development Office (SWDO).

Brig. Gen. Inocencio Pasaporte, commander of the Philippine Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade, told the Philippine News Agency Tuesday that after being treated for their slight injuries, the minors are now with the Guihulngan City SWDO.

The day after the encounter, the parents were immediately summoned and have met with their children, prior to their turnover to the SWDO, he said.

“They (children) were being utilized as "utusan" or runners/assistants and sometimes, one of them would bear arms,” Pasaporte said in mixed English and Cebuano. The minors are not regular members of the armed group, he noted.

The Army commander said one of the two children, whose identities were withheld for security reasons, disclosed that he was first recruited in 2018 somewhere in the hinterlands of Guihulngan City.

Pasaporte advised parents to monitor their children's activities to shield them against NPA recruitment as they are “vulnerable” and easily swayed to join the underground movement.

The two minors were among the four suspected NPA members who were "captured" by 62nd Infantry Battalion soldiers during an encounter at Sitio Manlibud in Barangay Sandayao, Guihulngan City on January 15, a report from the Philippine Army said on Tuesday.

More or less 12 suspected NPA members belonging to Central Negros 1, Komiteng Rehiyon-Negros Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor (KR-NCBS) clashed with the government troops who, Pasaporte said, acted on information received from villagers regarding the presence of armed men.

One suspected rebel was killed while the government troops also recovered firearms and ammunition.

“Regardless of how these two children were recruited and of their roles, they were victims whose participation in conflict bears serious implications for their physical and emotional well-being,” Pasaporte said.

He added this is an indication of the NPA’s deceitful acts and violation of the children’s human rights and the International Humanitarian law on the recruitment of children in armed conflict.

The minors are now being processed for reintegration into civilian life, “an essential part of the challenge to help child soldiers rebuild their lives,” Pasaporte said.

The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

The National Democratic Front has been formally designated as a terrorist organization by the Anti-Terrorism Council on June 23, 2021, citing it as “an integral and separate part” of the CPP-NPA. (PNA)