MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/02 April) – The use of paramilitary groups heightened during Martial Law especially when the Marcos military found itself becoming increasingly unable to suppress unrest in the countryside. Each rural barangay practically had its own Civilian Home Defense Force, which was attached to either the local police or military unit.
That wasn’t the entire story. The military had another tack which has persisted until now to a certain degree: the use of millenarian and quasi-religious sects in the fight against insurgency. In many instances, millenarian and quasi-religious groups tended to exhibit similar characteristics.
In the early 1970s, the military mobilized the Ilaga (Rat) in the war against the Moro National Liberation Front. Firmly believing they were invincible due to prayers, incantations and a supposedly sacred oil, members of the Ilaga became willing pawns in the bloody campaign against the MNLF, which was then waging a war of secession.
The same ploy was used in the campaign against the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army. In Mindanao in particular, groups like the Sagrado Corazon Senor (notoriously known as Tadtad for their macabre practice of chopping the bodies of their victims) and Rock Christ figured in several documented abuses against suspected members and supporters of the CPP-NPA. There were cases of CHDFs who were members too of these groups.
The Marcos government never acknowledged the Tadtad and other cults as part of its paramilitary network. But their participation in military operations, either as guides or combatants, was anything but secret. It was only after Marcos’ ouster that millenarian and quasi-religious groups faded into the background with the emergence of largely urban-based anti-communist groups like the Alsa Masa.
Historically, however, millenarian groups in the Philippines had emerged as a response to injustices brought by colonialism and feudal relations. And since they intended to overturn the dominant social order some of them even espoused agrarian reform and other programs that one usually hears from socialists and communists. Hence, given the conditions that gave rise to their existence it would be too simplistic to dismiss them as simply fanatics.
In fact, some millenarian movements were brutally suppressed during the American imperial rule for advocating independence, for example, the Colorums who emerged in the early twentieth century.
In 1967, bolo-wielding members of Lapiang Malaya (Freedom Party) led by Valentin de los Santos were mowed down with automatic gunfire by Constabulary men on Manila’s Taft Avenue. Since Lapian members were mainly peasants it is safe to assume that the quest for agrarian justice was at the core of their ideology, although they also showed anti-imperialist sentiments.
But millenarian groups are far from being purists; their practices and belief systems combine the old and the new and evolve these elements into something solely theirs. The Tadtads, for instance, profess belief in Catholicism but at the same time perform gory rituals which they believe will give them supernatural powers.
Millenarian groups generally revolve around a personality who gains adherents by making predictions about change, if not a utopia, at an appointed time. Members of the group spend their whole lives preparing for the coming of the promised bliss, adopt norms of behavior that suggest rejection of what they consider evil, and strive to live an existence that appears to be detached from the rest of society.
For some reasons, though, millenarian groups have become unwitting tools of repression. Having fallen victims to manipulation, they have discarded their roots as advocates of the people’s liberation. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at email@example.com.)