While essentially no different from previous counterinsurgency programs, Oplan Bantay Laya is deemed as the most brutal because it also directs its attacks on political activists. With its target research component, intelligence operations are directed at what it calls “sectoral front organizations”. The key people in these “sectoral front organizations” are placed in a “sectoral Order of Battle (OB).” These intelligence operations are carried out by units and personnel of the Military Intelligence Group-Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (MIG-ISAFP) lodged at the battalion level. These units are given “Intelligence Task Allocations,” with quarterly targets for “neutralization.” Thus, a surge of killings of political activists took place from 2002 onwards.
This resulted in the extrajudicial killing of 1,190 political activists from January 2001 to March 2010. There had been 205 victims of enforced disappearances, 1,028 victims of torture, and hundreds of thousands were forcibly displaced in rural areas as a result of military operations.
These killings and forcible disappearances are carried out by death squads composed by special operations units of the army, police, or paramilitary forces based on lists provided by military intelligence units.
The counterinsurgency programs of the AFP are based on the unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency strategies developed by the U.S. Armed Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) particularly that on “low intensity conflict.” These can be found in U.S. Army manuals of the 1960s and 1980s such as the manual of the U.S. Army Operations against Guerrilla Forces (FM 31-20) and the 1960 Special Forces manual, Counterinsurgency Operations.
Two underlying principles are integral to U.S. counterinsurgency operations. First, the guerrilla/terrorist assumes an illegal status and therefore his life is forfeit if apprehended. Second, the guerrilla uses terror to subjugate the local population and can therefore be effectively neutralized with the use of counter-terror by the counter-insurgent.
“Terror Operations,” by the counterinsurgent includes assassinations, disappearances, and mass executions. These terror operations were implemented by the U.S. and its puppet armies in many countries in subsequent decades, and remained as a hallmark of the counterinsurgency state in the 1980s.
Justification for terror operations can be read in U.S. training manuals. The 1965 U.S. Army Psychological Operations manual (FM33-5) stated that unconventional warfare against the enemy should have a multiplier effect by creating an atmosphere of fear. Fear was being created to force the local population to transfer loyalties from the insurgent to the counterinsurgent; to create a disincentive to discourage the local population from providing resources to the insurgents; and to make the supporters and the insurgent themselves lose confidence on the strength of their own army. These terror operations were carried out overtly or covertly.
The May 1961 U.S. manual on “Operations Against Irregular Forces” defined “overt irregular activities” to include terrorism by assassination, bombing, armed robbery, torture, mutilation, and kidnapping; provocation of incidents, reprisals, and holding of hostages; and denial activities, such as arson, flooding, demolition, use of chemical or biological agents, or other acts designed to prevent use of an installation, area, product, or facility. “Covert irregular activities,” on the other hand, included espionage, sabotage, dissemination of propaganda and rumors, delaying or misdirecting orders, issuing false or misleading orders or reports, assassination, extortion, blackmail, theft, counterfeiting, and identifying individuals for terroristic attack.
To prevent the terror tactics from backfiring on the counterinsurgent, U.S. and French experts in counterinsurgency instructed that these must be carried out by “professionals.” According to the manuals, these “professionals,” referring to paramilitary units, mercenaries, or special units assigned as death squads, must not be identified with the counterinsurgents trying to win the hearts and minds of the population.
The extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Philippines are no different from Operation Phoenix, which was implemented during the late 60s in Vietnam.
During Operation Phoenix in Vietnam, the CIA funded, designed, and advised Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU). Each province in Vietnam had a PRU and each PRU had a U.S. adviser from Special Forces units.
U.S. intelligence units provided names of suspected Vietcongs for neutralization to PRUs. Each PRU was given a quota, which according to reports reached a high of 1,800 persons per month.
Two U.S. Navy SEALS, Lt. John Wilbur and Barton Osborn, who served as advisers to PRUs, testified that PRUs were ordered to kill suspected members of the Vietcong infrastructure in villages. Sometimes, Wilbur said, it was much easier to shoot somebody rather than wait for intelligence operations to bear fruit especially since they were working on a monthly quota.
Mark Zepezauer in his book, The CIA’s Greatest Hits: Called Operation Phoenix, described Operation Phoenix as, “…an assassination program plain and simple. The idea was to cripple the Nationalist Liberation Front (NLF) by killing influential people like mayors, teachers, doctors, tax collectors-anyone who aided the functioning of the NLF’s parallel government in the South.”
These tactics and methods were also implemented in Latin America and were described in seven training manuals prepared by the U.S. military and used between 1987 and 1991 for intelligence training courses in Latin America and at the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), where the US trained Latin American soldiers, contain description of tactics such as executing guerrillas, blackmail, false imprisonment, physical abuse, using truth serum to obtain information, and paying bounties for enemy dead. Counterintelligence agents were advised that one of their functions is “recommending targets for neutralization.”
And the targets for “neutralization” or other punitive actions were very broad. These included “local or national political party teams, or parties that have goals, beliefs or ideologies contrary or in opposition to the National Government”, or “teams of hostile organizations whose objective is to create dissension or cause restlessness among the civilian population in the area of operations. The manuals described universities as “breeding grounds for terrorists,” and identified priests and nuns as terrorists. It advised intelligence units to infiltrate youth groups, student groups, labor unions, political parties, and community organizations.