HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
2 New Vigilante Groups Surface in Mindanao
Two new vigilante
groups came out in public last week claiming to eliminate “terrorists” and
pedophiles. The emergence of the vigilantes has revived memories of
martial law vigilantism that led to the commission of human rights
By Cheryll D. Fiel
DAVAO CITY -- Two vigilante groups have come out in public
separately weeks after U.S. Charge d'Affaires Joseph Mussomeli issued a
statement referring to Mindanao's borders as "so porous" for lawless
elements that could make the southern Philippines as the next Afghanistan.
Calling themselves the "Bag-ong Ilaga" (or new Ilaga), the first group of
vigilantes came out early last week, giving local reporters copies of
their videotaped press conference and a press statement declaring their
mission to eliminate "terrorists."
The “Bag-ong Ilaga” vigilantes said that they are "desperate" that
government has failed to preempt terrorist attacks and vowed to meet
“terrorists” "eye for an eye."
Named by the vigilante group as “terrorists” are the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Abu
Sayyaf, Pentagon and Jemaayah Islamiya (JI). Both the MILF and MNLF are
however armed political groups fighting for a separate state; Abu Sayyaf
and Pentagon have figured as crime syndicates while JI is suspected by the
U.S. as a “terrorist network” in Asia.
The press statement
signed by one "Kumander Dapay" (superior eagle) also warned all Muslims to
avoid helping the Moro rebel groups so they would be spared from vigilante
Reacting to the
report, the armed forces’ Task Force Davao (TFD), a battalion-strong
counter-terrorist unit based in Davao
City, threatened to arrest the
members of Bag-ong Ilaga. A TFP colonel however asked the group to instead
help the military gather information about suspected terrorists.
Two days after the Bagong Ilaga surfaced, another group, "Ahl-ul-Kitab,"
came out with a press statement saying that they are waging a war against
"foreign sex tourists" especially foreigners engaged in pedophilea. The
group warned that since pedophilea is against the teachings of the Koran,
they are duty-bound to launch punitive actions against those engaged in
the crime. The statement was signed by one Ali Mahmoud Julaila.
Sammy Buat of the
Suara Bangsamoro party-list group said that the emergence of the two
vigilante groups might be used to justify further militarization in
Evelyn Carias, secretary general of Khadidja Moro Women, on the other
hand, suspected that "Bag-ong Ilaga" is no different from the Ilagas in
the 1970s, only that, this group appears deadlier invoking
"counter-terrorism" as its mission. She expressed concern that the group
is just using "counter-terrorism" to spring a series of liquidation
against perceived enemies of the brains behind the group.
There have been more than 30 bombing incidents in
since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo began her term in early 2001. Most
of the incidents were blamed on Moro groups.
As a result, Moro communities where bombings took place became the targets
of military operations that, as claimed by rights watch groups, victimized
many innocent civilians including women and children.
The Ilaga that
Mindanaoans know in the martial law years singled out the Moros as their
enemies. The Ilaga claimed to be Ilonggos accused by the Moro as
landgrabbers so they had to defend themselves by taking up arms against
Backed by the
military, the Ilaga later became the dreaded vigilante group tagged in the
killing of other civilians. The most notorious case of human rights
violation involving the Ilaga was the brutal killing of Italian missionary
Fr. Tullio Favalli in Tulunan, North Cotabato in 1985. The intended
target of the murder, Fr. Peter Geremia, a colleague of Fr. Favali, lived
to tell of the atrocities of the vigilante group.
In an open letter to
the regional military command, Fr. Geremia said that the group responsible
for Fr. Favalli's killing "proclaimed themselves as champions of the armed
forces acting under government
authority, while drinking and acting like an insane criminal gang out of
The Ilaga, etched in
the memory of Mindanaoans, is an anti-rebel cult, notorious for acts of
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