BULATLAT SPECIAL REPORT:
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As “force multipliers” for the Philippine Army, paramilitary groups were also multipliers of its human rights abuses in the past four decades.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – During Martial Law in the 70s, Dulphing Ogan, 50, a Blaan, recalled that he was barely 10 years old when his family and neighbours hurriedly left their homes to seek refuge in the woods in Sarangani province. It was his earliest memory of evacuation, by his own community caught between armed clashes of the Moro Black Shirts and the Ilonggo Land Grabbers Association (Ilaga).
“I remembered the Ilaga were said to be grabbing Moro lands in Mindanao,” Ogan said. The Ilagas operated alongside government troops, and fought the Black Shirt Moros, also known as Bangsamoro Army (Bama).
“Another time, we evacuated because we heard gunshots from nearby villages, some two hours away. There were fightings between Moros and soldiers of the Philippine Constabulary (PC) then. We left our home at midnight, and spent the night in the woods,” Ogan said.
“Ilagâ,” the Cebuano word for “rat,” was a notorious Christian cult, formed and armed by local government and military officials, specifically to fight Moro secessionists in Mindanao.
The fear of the fleeing communities was well-founded, as the Ilagas were known for having butchered 65 defenseless Moros in a mosque in North Cotabato in 1971. In 1985, Ilaga ringleaders and brothers Norberto, Edilberto and Elpidio Manero killed missionary Italian priest Tulio Favali in North Cotabato.
From the time of the Marcos dictatorship to the present, second Aquino regime, various paramilitary groups have been formed and supported by government, through arms, trainings, funds, and even laws. They were formed to run after insurgents, but it is the unarmed civilians who become their hapless victims.
In 2011, just a year after President Aquino came to power, another Italian missionary priest and Favali’s colleague, Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, was killed in Arakan Valley in North Cotabato, by suspected members of another paramilitary group, the Alamara, which had reportedly planned to kill him since 2003.
Ogan, now the secretary general of the Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran), said that pro-government paramilitary groups, this time, composed of Lumads, like the Alamara, have been behind the forced recruitment, harassment, and worst of all, killings of other Lumads in Mindanao. And just like the evacuation he experienced as a child during Martial Law, the repeated exodus from Lumad communities continue.
From Civilian Guards to CAFGUs: Protectors of the few
During the Japanese occupation, Civilian Guards organized by local landlords operated alongside Japanese troops and the local Military Police, to fight off the Hukbalahap fighters. The Civilian Guards, practically the private armies of local powers-that-be, continued to operate even after World War II.
In 1969, they were renamed Barangay Self-defense Units (BSDU) under President Ferdinand Marcos. After a few years, the BSDU was again renamed, and recognized by law.
On Sept. 22, 1976, Marcos signed Presidential Decree 1016, creating the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF), “to expedite the effective solution of the peace and order problems throughout the country and thereby accelerate national socio-economic development.”
The paramilitary groups were supervised by local government units, organized and trained by the Department of National Defense.
Composed of active reservists, private security guards, part-time soldiers and neighbourhood thugs, the CHDF was responsible for many human rights violations during Martial Law, right alongside government troops.
After the Marcos dictatorship was ousted, all paramilitary groups were banned by Article 18, section 24, of the 1987 Constitution.
President Corazon Aquino, mother of the current president, overturned the said provision, when she signed Executive Order 264, which formed the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Units (Cafgus) in July 1987. Four years later, and still under the Aquino regime, Republic Act 7077, or the Cafgu Act, was passed in 1991.
Alongside Cafgus, armed cults also proliferated during the first Aquino regime, some of which were: Alsa Masa, Greenans, Pulahan, Tadtad, Nakasaka and Kadre.
As “force multipliers” for the Philippine Army, Cafgu and paramilitary groups were also multipliers of its human rights abuses, with the record of their Martial Law predecessor, CHDF and BSDU.
From Oplan Bantay Laya to Oplan Bayanihan: continued rise of Lumad killings
The case of the Hiagaonon family, the Belayongs of Calabuan village, Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, depicts how Lumad communities have suffered from human rights violations through the years as they defend their ancestral lands.
In 1986, Datu Maampagi Belayong and his wife Bae Adelfa, lost their daughter when she was killed during a bombing raid by the military in their community.
Under the Arroyo regime, in 2009, Datu Maampagi was killed by members of the Task Force Gantangan and Bungkatol Liberation Front (Bulif). Two years later, under Aquino, Maampagi’s younger brother Arpe who succeeded him in their organization Linundigan, was killed by the paramilitary group Salakawan. The Belayong brothers have fiercely resisted the entry of mining companies in their area.
Arroyo’s brutal counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya, was even worsened by her policies which promoted paramilitary groups.
In 2006, President Gloria Arroyo signed Executive Order (EO) 546, authorizing local chief executives, thru the police, to deputize civilian village security and force multipliers to support in counterinsurgency efforts. This was widely criticized as legitimization of the formation of private armies by local officials for their own political interests.
In 2008, Arroyo declared the formation of “investment defense forces,” to protect “development projects” from armed attacks of the NPA. It signalled the massive deployment of troops to areas targeted for mining operations, logging, agribusiness and power projects. It also signalled the revival of the Special Civilian Armed Auxilliary (Scaa), composed mainly of private security guards of companies.
Even much earlier into Arroyo’s administration, government-supported Lumad paramilitary groups began to proliferate, invoking the same “peace and development” line used by Marcos for the CHDF. They were led by alleged datus (tribal chieftains), who recruit other Lumad and convince communities to support government projects, even if these encroach into their ancestral lands.
One-third of killings were by paramilitary
The United Nations and other international bodies such as the Human Rights Watch had called on Aquino to revoke EO 546, as he had promised during his 2010 election campaign. Such calls remain unheeded as paramilitary groups continue to wreak havoc in Mindanao, the most recent of which was the Sept. 1 killing of two leaders and a tribal school head in Surigao del Sur by the Magahat-Bagani.
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of the human rights group Karapatan, said that in the past five years under Aquino, they have recorded 282 extrajudicial killings. Of these, paramilitary groups were implicated in the killing of 77 people.
This year, the terror operations of paramilitary groups, alongside soldiers, have triggered the evacuation of communities in the regions of Caraga, southern and northern Mindanao region.
Forty-three years after Marcos declared Martial Law, the regime of the son of his arch enemy, Senator Ninoy Aquino, keeps the paramilitary groups alive and killing.
“Instead of resolving the root causes of poverty, the repressive and exploitative regimes, from Martial Law to the US- Aquino regime, have pitted the Filipinos against each other to serve the interests of its landlord and foreign master,” Enriquez said.
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