DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 November) – Speaking at the national congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines on Wednesday (November 24) in Quezon City, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima conveyed President Aquino’s reluctance to do away with former president Arroyo’s Executive Order 546 which practically legalized the existence of private armies of politicians.
”The President said we still need to study (EO 546) vis-à-vis current needs,” MindaNews quoted de Lima as having said. Aquino, the secretary said, was still awaiting the recommendations of the Philippine National Police and the military.
By “current needs,” Aquino was apparently referring to the capability of the regular security forces to address the threats posed by the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, although the stalled peace negotiations with these armed groups may resume anytime depending on the willingness of the parties to forge a compromise on issues that have bogged down the resumption of talks.
From a purely tactical point of view, having private armies and armed “civilian volunteers” as “force multipliers” in counterinsurgency may compensate for the military’s supposed manpower constraint. But that’s as far as their usefulness goes. In the long run, experience shows that their existence would create problems bigger than the one it seeks to address. Poorly disciplined and ill-trained, they are prone to commit abuses, as Secretary de Lima herself noted. As a former chair of the Commission on Human Rights, she should know how many of the cases reported to the rights body were blamed on militias, an input she needs to relay to the President.
President Aquino himself should be reminded of the dubious circumstances that led to the issuance of EO 546. It may be recalled that the EO, issued on 14 July 2006, came out shortly after the issue of private armies came out in the national media and suspected MILF rebels staged an attack on then Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan. The former governor is a close Arroyo ally and is a principal suspect, along with four of his sons, in the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre which killed 58 people. Not surprisingly, militias armed with government weaponry figured in that carnage.
Based on these facts, it’s obvious that Arroyo issued EO 546 to give private armies maintained by her allies a semblance of legitimacy and keep them loyal to her. The rationale of using them as “force multipliers” in counterinsurgency was just a smokescreen for a self-serving political purpose.
Instead of glorifying Arroyo’s nasty EO, Aquino should focus on getting the peace processes with the National Democratic Front and the MILF going. Scant government resources should be spent on peace initiatives not on unproductive endeavors such as arming and feeding paramilitary forces whose favorite pastime is preying on hapless civilians and moonlighting as henchmen of local politicians. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected].)