On the day the nation observed the first anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre, President Benigno Aquino III issued a statement that his regime will not be disbanding paramilitary groups despite their involvement in the massacre and other absues. The government’s insistence on maintaining state-funded militias undermined whatever commitment it had to achieving true and complete justice for the Ampatuan victims.
Prior to November 23, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report on the Ampatuan massacre and the involvement of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the paramilitary groups sponsored by her regime. The human rights watchdog correctly pointed out that paramilitary groups were being used as private armies by local warlords, as was the case with the Ampatuans. The HRW called on Aquino to disband the militias, saying that these units lack training and professionalism and were prone to abuses. The watchdog said that a mere executive order was enough to dismantle the paramilitary units like the CAFGU’s and CVO’s.
Despite the abundance of evidence related to the abuses committed by paramilitary groups, Aquino has insisted that dismantling them was “not the proper solution”.
Paramilitary groups have existed before even during the time of the Marcos dictatorship. They were known then as the Civilian Home Defense Force or CHDF. During the first Aquino regime, the CAFGU’s were created via Executive Order 264 signed on July 25, 1987.
There have been many reasons why the government has chosen to retain the paramilitary groups. The first and more obvious one is that the government needs the CAFGU’s and CVO’s to augment the “overstretched” regulard forces of the AFP and PNP in the counter-insurgency campaign. Paramilitary groups have been called “force multipliers”. It has been deemed necessary in the internal security operations of the country.
For the new Aquino administration, it is also a question of mathematics. The AFP and PNP are too “overstretched” so they need to be augmented by the 50,000 CAFGU’s to be able to cover most of the country. Another aspect of the math is that maintaining paramilitary groups is cheaper than recruiting additional regular troops.
“If you hire more people [in the military and police] you increase the pension obligations that we obviously cannot support,” Mr. Aquino was quoted in an Inquirer report.
So, it’s also about the money. CAFGU’s are paid much less than regular troops. Hiring more troops would mean paying for their salaries, benefits and pensions. According to a 2008 Newsbreak report, “the CAFGU are supposedly composed of volunteers, each receiving a subsistence allowance of P1,800 a month. Comparatively, a full time soldier receives a base pay of about P12,000 gross on top of subsistence or combat allowance.” Other estimates say CAFGUs receive a P90/day susbsistence allowance. Other reports says they receive some P2,700/month, still much lower than the salary of regular soldiers.
And it doesn’t end there. Government auditors have also pointed out anomalies in the use of CAFGU funds such as double payments, overpayments and unliquidated cash advances. The CAFGU has also been made a milking cow by some officers.
The Aquino government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have promised to professionalize the CAFGU’s in light of many abuses attributed to them. This claim however is downright laughable given the kind of training the CAFGUs receive, the requirements for membership, and the level of compensation they receive.
To be a CAFGU member, one merely has to be an able-bodied Filipino of legal age with no criminal record and with loyalty to the Repbulic. There are also “standard psychiatric tests” allegedly conducted on recruits according to an AFP spokesman. They are given minimal training and subsistence allowance. Some are allowed to have “regular jobs”. Then there are those who are forcibly recruited to become CAFGUs especially in areas that are alleged rebel strongholds. A person refusing to join the CAFGU may be considered an NPA-sympathizer.
Minimal training also means the CAFGU’s are not trained to respect human rights. This isn’t even surprising since even regular troops who supposedly underwent regular training are also often accused of violating human rights. If the regular troops can’t be professionalized to respect human rights, what more the CAFGUs and other militias?
Some paramilitary units like the “Special CAFGUs” get their allowances from the LGU’s that requested them. So in a way, they are very much vulnerable to influence and control by local politicians. For those coming from low-income families with very little subsistence allowance, money from politicians may look attractive for some.
In his paper of paramilitarism, lawyer Ryan Hartzell Balisacan said that “the military-paramilitary complex cannot be fully professionalized because not all of its members are given the proper intellectual and material preparation needed to embark on a career in the security establishment. In the case of paramilitaries, they are able to weild arms within their respective territorial jurisdictions without full awareness of their responsibilities as adjuncts of the state’s defense machinery, and without full consciousness of their position in the overall framework of national security. For them, their paramilitary status is nothing but a source of power in their communities and a source of income for their families.”
In its March 23, 2000 statement on the revival of the CAFGUs, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said that “853 cases consisting of murder, execution, torture, disappearance, illegal arrest, and detention were filed with the Commission against 1,070 CAFGU members.”
The government doesn’t see paramilitary groups as a problem. Government looks at them as part of the solution to the insurgency. What this mindset betrays is the worn-out militarist approach to the armed conflict in the country. For the government, winning the war means overwhelming the enemy with more troops.
Meanwhile, the claim of professionalizing CAFGUs somehow insults the intelligence of the people. By its very nature, CAFGUs cannot be professionalized. History has shown this to be true. Government has refused to acknowledge the fact that CAFGUs are a failure. They are a source of abuses as well as corruption.
The Aquino government has equated peace and local security with the number of government troops it can deploy. However, ending the armed conflict cannot be achieved by simply increasing the number of troops. On the contrary, escalating troop deployment makes peace even harder to achieve. You want to achieve a just peace, you increase the number doctors and health workers in the barrios. You increase the number of teachers in the rural communities. You want to achieve a just and lasting peace, you work for genuine land reform and uplift the economic conditions of farmers. You want to achieve peace, you demilitarize communities and dismantle paramilitary units. ###