MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/01 April) – On Friday, 30 March, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on President Benigno S. Aquino III to dismantle all paramilitary groups, citing these groups’ “long and continuing history of serious human rights violations.”
HRW noted that the President has not delivered on his campaign promise to scrap Executive Order 546 signed by his predecessor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in 2006 that has been used to justify arming Civilian Volunteer Organizations as “force multipliers” in counterinsurgency operations.
Aquino’s amnesia doesn’t surprise me. Like the other Presidents before him, he is finding it difficult to go against the wishes of the generals when it comes to questions concerning counterinsurgency. In fact, he has made known his position [on paramilitary groups] when he said last year that he was considering deploying Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units or Cafgus in areas where large-scale mining ventures operate.
His declaration, which also revealed where he really stands on the issue of mining, came after the successful raid on three mining firms in Surigao del Norte late last year by the New People’s Army.
Like a malignant disease, the use of paramilitary groups has refused to go away even after the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos. The president’s mother and Marcos’ successor, the late Corazon C. Aquino, disbanded the Civilian Home Defense Force only to replace it with the Cafgu. She also supported anti-communist vigilante groups whose emergence was linked to the counterinsurgency strategy called Low-Intensity Conflict.
It’s ironic that the existence of paramilitary groups, which have figured in many abuses, was given a semblance of legitimacy during the Corazon Aquino administration. She issued Executive Order 264 dated July 25, 1987 creating the Cafgu. In 1991, she signed Republic Act 7077 providing for the “development, administration, organization, training, maintenance and utilization of the Citizen Armed Forces.”
EO 264 and RA 7077 cited Section 4, Article XVI (General Provisions) of the Constitution as their legal basis. This provision states: “The Armed Forces of the Philippines shall be composed of a citizen armed force which shall undergo military training and serve as may be provided by law. It shall keep a regular force necessary for the security of the state.”
Given the political context in which the 1987 Constitution was drafted, it’s highly unlikely that the framers of the Charter had envisioned a citizen armed force to be organized, oriented and mobilized in the tradition of martial law era paramilitaries. The memories of abuses committed by government militiamen were still too fresh as to make the members of the Constitutional Commission entertain the faintest idea of resurrecting a monster.
Undoubtedly, the commissioners had in mind an AFP composed MAINLY of citizen soldiers, a departure from the usual policy of maintaining a large standing army that eats up a huge portion of the national budget. The central idea of training a citizen army is to have a pool of qualified reservists who can be called upon to to defend the state in times of emergency.
At least two questions therefore can be raised with regard to the existence of the Cafgus:  Do the Cafgus we now have possess the qualifications provided for under RA 7077? Are they being mobilized strictly on the basis of conditions enumerated under the same law?
RA 7077 stipulates a multi-tiered screening process for would-be citizen soldiers, although in actual practice the selection of Cafgus has been left [almost] exclusively to the whim of military commanders. The criteria for their selection have been limited to their knowledge of local conditions and willingness to fight rebel groups. This circumvention of the rules has made the Cafgu a dumping ground of trigger-happy individuals who eventually become the local tyrants.
Moreover, in some areas, the Cafgus have served as security guards for private corporations, a function sanctioned by no less than the AFP General Headquarters. Surely, this cannot be a function of any self-respecting citizen soldier. I suppose too that the “emergency” contemplated under RA 7077 refers to situations directly affecting the security of the state.
The provision on the citizen army in the Constitution cannot and should not be made a smokescreen for the resurgence of the discredited paramilitary system. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)