‘Disband all paramilitary groups’ – rights group

BULATLAT FILE PHOTO. Solidarity groups picket the national headquarters of the Philippine National Police to demand the arrest and incarceration of paramilitary leaders who led the killings of indigenous leaders. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat)

Despite a long record of human rights violations committed by paramilitary groups, many of them remain active and under the command of the AFP up to this day.

By RUTH LUMIBAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – At least seven deaths under the Duterte administration were perpetrated by paramilitary groups, as recorded by Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples Rights (Karapatan).

“Corazon Aquino continued the dictator Marcos’s policy of using paramilitary groups to quell opposition to her anti-people policies. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III inflicted State terror and human rights violations in rural areas, especially Lumad and peasant communities, through butchers in the AFP and paramilitaries,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

Political dynasties, landlords, and other local elite have used paramilitary groups to perpetrate their power. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is also known to have 25 paramilitary groups under its command, the Bagani Special Force included, which is stationed in North Cotabato.

Justice delayed

Karapatan called for the speedy disposition of complaints filed against soldiers and paramilitary perpetrators of the killing of Fr. Faustino Tentorio, a parish priest in Arakan, North Cotabato. Tentorio was a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission (PIME), a well-known environmentalist, and strongly opposed mining operations in Arakan and nearby areas.

Fr. Tentorio was boarding his car, parked near a parish, when an unidentified suspect approached him and shot him twice in the head. Notably, members of the 57th Infantry Battalion of the AFP were conducting operations in the area during that time. The AFP is in command of 25 paramilitary groups, including the Bagani Special Force stationed in North Cotabato.

“The Bagani Special Force is among the 25 paramilitary groups under the command of the AFP. Aside from acting as force multipliers of the AFP for their bloody counter-insurgency campaigns against the people, they double as private armies of politicians and landlords, and as investment defense forces of corporations encroaching on land and communities in the rural areas,” Palabay explained.

The murder complaint, left unresolved for too long already, includes Lieutenant Colonel Joven Gonzales and Major Mark Espiritu. Several other members of the Bagani Special Force are also included as respondents: Jimmy Ato alias “Ian Mateo” and “Jimmy Intar;” Robert Ato alias “Roberto Ato” and “Roberto Intar;” Jan Corbala alias “Johnny Corbala,” “Jhon Corbala;” “Jun Karbala,” and “Kumander Iring;” Nene Durado alias “Nene Dorado;” “Kaing Labi”; Joseph Basol; Edgar Enoc; Romulo Tapgos; William Buenaflor alias “WB”; and alias “Katong”.

Killing spree

Victims of extrajudicial killings perpetrated by paramilitary groups range from all ages. As part of the government’s counterinsurgency program, victims are either tagged as members of the New People’s Army (NPA) or well-known activists, especially anti-mining or environmental advocates.

Aside from Fr. Tentorio, the Bagani Special Force is also linked to the deaths of the couple Totong and Rita Gascon, and peasant leader Willerme Agorde.

All three were peasants. The Gascon couple were killed in September 2016, while the 37th Infantry Battalion was actively conducting operations in Arakan. Agorde, meanwhile, is an officer of the Mailuminado Farmers Association Incorporated (MAFAI) and is known for being an active advocate of genuine agrarian reform since the 1950s.

The youngest victim of paramilitary groups is Obello Bay-Ao, a 19-year-old lumad student of Salugpongan ‘Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Center (STTICLC). He was shot on September 5, 2017 by two armed members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) in Talaingod, Davao Del Norte.

Obello sustained multiple gunshot wounds but managed to escape and narrate the incident to his neighbors. His murder came after Duterte’s command to bomb lumad schools, tagging them as a recruitment and training school of the NPA.

Paramilitary groups are made more dangerous by the fact that they are guised as civilians or recruited from members of the community.

In Bukidnon, indigenous peoples are recruited to join paramilitary groups. On July 30, 2016, a six-month pregnant Makenet Gayoran was killed and several others, including children, were injured during a shooting rampage perpetrated by the New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform (NIPAR).

NIPAR is under the command of the 8th Infantry Battalion.

A tribal paramilitary group formed during the Arroyo presidency, Alamara, is also known to be notorious for human rights violations. Among the victims of the Alamara group are Matanem Lorendo Pocuan, a respected leader of the Omayam Tribe, and Ande Latuan, an Umayammon. Both were known as strong oppositors of military operations and destructive mining projects in their ancestral lands.

Climate of impunity

Despite a long record of human rights violations committed by paramilitary groups, many of them remain active and under the command of the AFP up to this day.

“The filing of murder complaints against soldiers and paramilitary perpetrators of the extrajudicial killing of Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio is a long-overdue measure that shows how difficult it is to pursue justice in the Philippines, how the climate of impunity has pervaded given six long years that has passed since the crime against Tentorio, and why it is necessary to disband paramilitary groups,” Palabay said.

First institutionalized by the Arroyo administration under Executive Order No. 546, it has long been criticized by human rights advocates. As part of Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program, the order authorized the Philippine National Police (PNP) “to deputize the barangay tanods as force multipliers in the implementation of the peace and order plan in the area”. The Aquino administration, however, proved to be no better and instead reinforced EO 546 by reviving the Marcosian Special Civilian Active Auxiliary.

With the militarist regime of the Duterte administration and his order to “destroy” the NPA, the AFP is foreseen to capitalize on its paramilitary groups.

“With Duterte pursuing the militarist path of his predecessors, in a more brazen and thuggish fashion through Oplan Kapayapaan and the drug war, the people should press the demand for the disbandment of all paramilitary and other groups being utilized by the regime to sow and inflict worse human rights violations,” the human rights advocate called. ()

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