Wednesday, November 2, 2011

History of Mindanao, Part XX: "Bad Blood" HRW Report on AFP Sponsored Paramilitaries in Caraga, 1991, Part 1

The following "History" entry is quite different from my previous entries for a couple of reasons. First, it isn't an axcerpt but an entire publication, albeit one with substantially less content than most books. Secondly, it is of a much more recent vintage having been published almost 20 years ago. I also need to point out that the publisher, HRW, or Human Rights Watch, is one that I often find quite suspect. Recently I posted a three part series on HRW's report on the so called "Davao Death Squadl although found no serious factual errors, the report smacked of amateurish innuendo and nothing was corroborated. It was all subjective nonsense. Still, it drew international attention to the dynamic and did provide character sketches of 28 alleged victims. Likewise with this report. The jist of the work is that the AFP-sponsored armed reserves like the now defunct Integrated Civil Home Defense (ICHDF) or its succesor, today's Civilian Auxiliary Geographical Force Unit (CAFGU) as well as the Lumad (Animist Hilltribesmen) paramilitaries that were folded into the nascent CAFGU, just as they had been with the ICHDF.

Unlike the aforementioned Davao Death Squad report, "You Can Die at Anytim," this report, "Bad Blood: Militia Abuses in Mindanao, the Philippines," resulted in a very intencive investigation. For five weeks in January and February of 1992 HRW staffers covered the bloody violence in Mindanao's Caraga Region, specifically the borderlands of Agusan del Sur and Suriago del Sur Provinces, close to what was then the northern reaches of Davao del Norte Province, but what has since become Compostela Valley, or ComVal Province. The saddest thing is how nothing at all has changed in the nearly two decades since.

It is a thirty-six paged report but like so many of its ilk, the first several pages are tables, and report overviews, etc., so that I begin on page seven. This will be a three part entry.


Bad Blood: Militia Abuses in Mindanao, the Philippines


The Military, the Paramilitary, and the NPA


Since its inception the Philippine Military has served primarily as an internal security force, directed to quell indigenous insurgencies rather than to fight external aggressors. Paramilitary auxiliaries, both official and unofficial, have been central to these internal operations. Paramilitary groups have allowed the military to circumvent the more costly alternative- large increases in the regular territorial foces- and have functioned as the military's grassroots "eyes and ears" in communities suspected of harboring subversives. Historically, the Government has had a poor record of convicting members of paramilitary groups on human rights grounds.

During the Japanese Occupation, the Philippine Constabulary (PC) , then the leading internal security force, worked closely with a paramilitary group known as the Civil Guards, which were armed by the PC and paid by landholder's collaborating with the Japanese. After World War II, Civil Guards were used in a brutal and successful war to crush a peasant uprising in Luzon known as the Huk Rebellion. Local fanatic cult groups were also deployed in terror campaigns in a strategy masterminded by the CIA's head Edward Lansdale. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Military continued to use civilian paramilitary organizations under various names under successive administrations.

In the mid-1970s, existing paramilitary organizations were absorbed into the new Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force, or ICHDF. In Mindanao, the IHCDF, or CHDF, was originally deployed together with Cristian armed fanatic groups against an uprising in the Muslim population. The CHDF often operated in independent teams, outside the chain of command. Under the supervision of Constabulary forces, the CHDF soon grew to more than 73,000 members, and gained international notoriety for brutality. Virtually every major international human rights organization working in the Philippines documented its abuses.

Beginning in 1974, the CHDF were also increasingly deployed against the New Peoples Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. By 1985, NPA forces , driven by worsening poverty and unprecedented levels of corruption in government, had grown to an estimated 25,000 armed insurgents. Most of the CHDF were deployed in Mindanao, which helped the NPA expand in that region, because "in addition to being incompetent , the CHDF were brutal" ("Rebellion and Repression in the Philippines" Richard Kessler [New Haven,Conn.:Yale University Press] [1989] pp121). In one particularly grisly example reported to the Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights, a mother described what the CHDF had done to her daughter:

"Last December 23, 1984, I was working at our farm in Sitio Bagacay, while my daughter Virginia was inside our nipa house. At about 4PM, I heard gunshots coming from the hill directly above where our house was located...I recognized the men as four members of the Civilian Home Defense Force...the four CHDF members approached Virginia, took her to our (farm) plot. Once there, they removed the dress, bra, and panties of Virginia...


...laid her on the ground and the four took turns having sexual intercourse with her. Virginia shouted for help twice and after her second appeal for help, (one of the CHDF) stabbed her with a dagger above her breast and below her navel, after which he shot her with his rifle. After looting the hut, the four CHDF members burned it down, fired several more shots in the air and left" (LCHR "Salvaging Democracy) pp33).

Because of many abuses like this one, the dissolution of the CHDF became a constant refrain of human rights groups and the political opposition to Marcos in the early 1980s. Opposition candidate Corazon Aquino made the end of the CHDF a key promise during her presidential campaign, and when she took office, she vowed to make good on her campaign pledge. The new Constitution, ratified in February 1987, provided that "all paramilitary forces including the CHDF...shall be dissolved or, where appropriate, converted into the regular force," but permitted the creation of a "citizens armed force" (Constitution Article XVII, Section 24).

The CHDF and other paramilitary units were officially dissolved six months later. Just ten days later, however, Aquino signed an Executive Irder creating the new Citizens Armed Forces- Geographical Unit (CAFGU) (Executive Order #275 dissolved the CHDF on 7/15/87 and Executive Order #264 created CAFGU on July 25, 1987). Initially, according to various Military estimates, between 30 and 70% of CAFGU recruits were former CHDF members.

Recognizing the brutality of the CHDF, military leaders made efforts to distinguish the CAFGU from the CHDF. The CAFGU, they said, was not a paramilitary force, which was now outlawed. It was rather a "reservist army" or militia, to be deployed solely in their home communities to defend against incursions by rebel forces. Guidelines assured that only "qualified" individuals would be admitted in a careful screening process, a process supervised by civil, as well as military authorities. Recruits with criminal, or "derogatory" records would be excluded. Ideally CAFGU recruits were to be drawn from the pool of roughly "one million idle Reservists, highschool graduates or ROTC or Civil Military Training courses or of summer military courses. In cases where there were insufficient numbers of eligible candidates, the Armed Forces may screen all able bodied male citizens and train them" (from Executive Order #264, line #240 under "Implementing Rules and Regulations").

In reality, the guidelines used in screening potential recruits are inadequate to prevent abusive individuals from being accepted. Given the poor record of prosecutions against human rights violators, many former CHDF and vigilante group members may be legally accepted. More worrisome, national and internation human rights groups have complained that even the limited screening safeguards are routinely ignored or purposely circumvented.

Training for CAFGU also appears to be inadequate. While the military points to the fact that the six week training for CAFGU includes several hours training on concepts of human rights. Human Rights Watch learned of several instances where training personnel (who after training became the unit's commanding officers) are themselves known to be abusive.

Guidelines drafted by the Department of National Defense provided that the CAFGU, unlike the CHDF, would be subject to the same discipline and chain of command as the regular armed forces. Each armed forces detachment would be liable for abuses committed by CAFGU members operating under its command. However, Human Rights Watch found that military officers often denied that especially abusive CAFGU members were under their command, despite evidence to the contrary.


In early 1992, some 89,000 CAFGU had been deployed, and plans were underway to increase the CAFGU by another 10,000. In rural areas, CAFGU forces were increasingly eclipsing local civilian government and police functions. Because of their superior knowledge of local territory and history, the CAFGUs were employed by the military in all aspects of military operations, from informants and guides to frontline forces in search and destroy operations against rebel hideouts.

Human Rights Watch documented dozens of grave human rights abuses, ranging from Extra-Judicial Killings to maltreatment while in custody, committed by CAFGU members in Mindanao. Little, it seems, had changed. The findings echo several earlier reports by international human rights organizations, which documented an alarming rise in cases of abuse by the militia in 1989.

Human Rights Watch findings cast serious doubt on the rigorousness of the CAFGU screening process and on the ability of regular forces to control and discipline units in Mindanao. Lists available through military and civil authorities revealed that a majority of recruits formerly belonged to the CHDF. In other cases, CAFGU members were known to belong to local fanatical cults or tribal armies, and still others reportedly had criminal records. The idea of drawing reservists from college level ROTC graduates was impossible to achieve in outlying areas, where the vast majority of residents have only a few years schooling. In cases where CAFGU abuses were reported to authorities, few militiamen were disarmed, discharged, tried, and convicted (in Agusan del Sur Province only 35% finished primary school and only 10% were graduates of any formal military training).

Worse, in a few documented cases where CAFGU members were officially discharged, the individuals continued to be employed in military operations against insurgents.

Human Rights Reforms

Few military, paramilitary, or militia members have ever been prosecuted by the courts. The problem is not one of laws, but one of enforcement. The Philippines is signatory to many of the principle human rights treaties, and the Philippine Constitution contains a comprehensive Bill of Rights.

Several Governmental bodies concerned with human rights exist. A Government Commision on Human Rights (CHR) laid down in the Constitution, is charged with investigating human rights abuses by both the Government and the NPA, and recommending cases for prosecution. It has no power to prosecute.

However, even within its limited mandate, the CHR has had little success in investigating abuses. Critics both within and outside the agency say the CHR has attempted to investigate too wide a variety of civil and criminal matters...


...and complain that its resources are too centralized in the capital. Of 679 staff on January 1992, 300 were in Manila. While the Manila office produced glossy brochures and detailed performance reports, investigators in the countryside complained about being short of staff and funds. Each regional office had the use of just one vehicle for investigators across an average of seven provinces; and budgets were so tight that investigators routinely paid for Xerox copying out of their own pocket. In Surigao del Sur Province, where numerous cases of abuse were reported, the field investigator said he had use of neither a type writer nor a Government vehicle.

The CHR is also hindered by its reputation for being ineffectual as an avenue for justice. Of 3,414 complaints filed with the CHR in 1991, only 836 were filed in the courts or in other agencies. The CHR was unable to point to any discharge or jail sentence of military as a result. Human rights groups also complained that CHR was too passive, failing to investigate reported abuses unless the complaintant filed a formal complaint, which the victims of abuse were often reluctant to do.

To its credit, the CHR appears to have showed some boldness in employing its new powers to delay schueduled promotions of military officers on the basis of existing human rights complaints. Human Rights Watch found evidence to suggest that this is having a strong psychological impact on higher ranks in the military. In Mindanao, for instance, Human Rights Watch was told by military sources that the promotion of a brigade commander in Bukidnon was held up because of complaints filed against a subordinate, a lieutenant colonel; two other colonels, one in Agusan del Sur and one in Bukidnon, were also not promoted because of complaints filed with the Commission on Human Rights going back to the mid-1980s. A major in Tupi, South Cotabato also said his promotion had been held up, and local human rights monitors said he has been consulting with them on human rights issues more frequently since then (the "major" in South Cotabato was Major Bermudez, interviewed by HRW on 1/21/92 and the "colonel in Bukidnon was Col.Rodolfo Rocamora interviewed by HRW at Camp Osito Bahian on 1/21/92).

The Presidential Human Rights Committee, a cabinet-level task force which includes representatives of the military, CHR, Departent of Justice and non-governmental human rights organizations, has pushed a member of human rights cases to the spotlight since 1989, but it remains to be seen whether any prosecutions can be attained. Under the leadership of Justice Secretary Franklin Drilon and his successor, Silvestre N.Bello III, the PHRC launched several investigations. In November 1991, a Task Force was actively prosecuting several cases of political killings, including a case of multiple murder and arson against a military sergeant in the massacare of the Peralta family in Pangasinan. The PHRC also enacted several new directives, but implementation appeared to be a problem. For example, the PHRC drafted legislation instituting an important, critical program for protecting witnesses and their families. However, a year after the legislation had become law, and despite a hefty $1 Million budget, the program had still not been utilized in a single instance.

Officials in PHRC blamed the non-implementation of the program on the increasing political paralysis in the months leading up to the 1992 Elections.


There was an increasing sense of lawlessness during the election period. Three candidates were assassinated in February and early March. Government officials complained that the Armed Forces were "outgunned" by the estimated 143 private armies across the country. In fact, many of the "private" armies were manned by offduty soldiers and militia. The local and national press provided a daily litany of scandals describing soldiers and militiamen's involvement in illegal logging, extortion, kidnapping rings, and guns-for-hire rings.

Police commanders publicly expressed fears that CAFGU groups might be used by wealthy politicians to intimidate voters during the elections. In Central Mindanao, a police official announced that the CAFGU and vigilante forces were being mobilized by politicians as private armies. This prompted President Aquino to request that CAFGU deployed in areas where insurgency no longer posed a threat be disarmed. A week later, however, the Commissioner on Elections said the 89.000 CAFGU could keep their arms following a request by the Defense Secretary Renato de Villa that the CAFGU serve as official "poll watchers' and promised "clean and fair' elections.

The Military and Human Rights

The Philippine Military has long been characterized by excessive politicization and abusiveness. It has also been tainted by the image of illegitimacy. Historically it has served as a collaborator with foreign occupying powers, and as an instrument of elite repression. Even though the military had taken pains to clean up its tarnished image. At the highest levels, the military had cooperated with efforts by the legislature, the Department of Justice, and the Commission on Human Rights to strengthen civilian authority. In late 1990, the legislature passed a law dissolving the PC, a security force which was responsible for serious human rights abuses during the Marcos and Aquino Administrations, and instituted a new national police under civilian control. In June 1991, Aquino signed legislation which returned to civil courts jurisdiction over human rights and criminal offenses filed against members of the military.

However, for reasons not entirely clear, human rights reforms appeared to have successfully "trickled down" to the intermediate and rank and file level. In 1991, evidence of human rights abuses by soldiers and militia continued to be reported, although on a lesser scale. There appeared to be a serious lack of political will in combating remaining obstruction among military ranks. The military's commitment to enforcing the Government's legal commitments to preserving human rights appeared questionable.


Parts 2, 3, and 4 to follow...

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