KASAMA Vol. 14 No. 4 / October-November-December 2000 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
Vigilante groups' revival:
Back to the dark days of anti-communist hysteria
Statement of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
March 10, 2000
Human rights organizations led by the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates express alarm over government's renewed interest in the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs). CAFGUs are formerly the Marcos-era's Integrated Civilian Home Defense Units (ICHDF) with a new name. These paramilitary forces were responsible for thousands of massacres, killings, enforced disappearances, torture and rape of many Filipinos during their active service. One of the most notorious of these groups is the Manero brothers' Ilaga group, now named the Christian Mercenaries Association.
In its 1993 report "CAFGUs Against Human Rights", the Philippine Human Rights Information Center cited cases of paramilitary atrocities ranging from forced evacuation, to salvaging and cannibalism. The question of whether the victims were actually "communists" became irrelevant in the light of heinous criminal acts perpetrated against them. CAFGUs and other paramilitary formations were disbanded in 1997 not only because obviously they failed to help military efforts to contain communist insurgency, but have wreaked death and destruction with impunity, against the civilian population, victimizing mostly NGO workers, church workers, women and children.
Complaints against armed civilian vigilante groups have reached the UN Commission on Human Rights and the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva. The UN Working Group on Involuntary Disappearance sent a mission to the Philippines in 1990 and seriously recommended the disbandment of such groups in order to remedy cases of human rights violations. Cases of Trade Union rights violations were also cited by the ILO, which recommended to the Philippine government the disbandment of CAFGUs and prosecution of perpetrators.
Government assertions that CAFGU recruitment would be strict, is nothing new. Previous Aquino and Ramos administrations vowed an educated, disciplined and highly trained paramilitary group. The final product were salaried battalions of death squads who burned, pillaged, raped and murdered at will. Assurances of close military supervision is neither a relief, as one rots the other. The armed forces' human rights record is not exactly clean.
Government's helplessness in addressing criminality or rebellion will not be aided by reviving, or encouraging the revival of paramilitary structures. This will only aggravate the already deplorable human rights situation in the country. Not only will it put the Philippines in the "world's most notorious" list once again, but would undermine official mechanisms already in place to deal with the same. PAHRA urges government to seriously rethink its "vigilante mentality", and avoid going back to the dark days of dictatorship once again.
Santos A. Lamban, PAHRA Secretary General
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights
Rm. 403, FMSG Building, Balete Drive cor. 3rd Street, New Manila, Quezon City 1112 Philippines.
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