By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in Panay lashed out against the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its attempts to justify the Aquino administration’s release of some P31 million ($720 thousand) to the break-away faction of the RPA-ABB based in Panay and Negros Islands.
Bayan-Panay based its criticism on the statement of AFP 3rd Infantry Division Capt. Reylan Java’s statement that instead of giving P31 million ($720 thousand) to the RPA-ABB faction, the government should divert the money to the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) project of the the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). Java said the funds in the project will benefit not only the so-called “rebels” but also the communities they supposedly influence.
For the last two weeks, a controversy has broken out over reports exposing how the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), under the leadership of Secretary Teresita Deles disbursed P31 million ($720 thousand) reportedly for socio-economic development projects of the RPA-ABB. A supposed peace pact between the government and the RPA-ABB called for financing of such projects for rebel returnees.
Bayan-Panay spokesman Lean Porquia said the government was exposing its lack of sincerity in pursuing peace by funding the RPA-ABB, which, he said, has long been exposed as a criminal syndicate. Porquia said since the RPA-ABB’s formation, its members have been mercenaries of whichever government was in power as well as going into the service of drug lords and political warlords.
“Since 1992, the RPA-ABB has been a bandit group that steals from the masses. They entered into a bogus peace talks with the Estrada regime in 2000 in a desperate attempt to maintain funding and organizational survival. It’s primarily a pseudo-revolutionary organization comprised mostly of thieves,” he said.
Millions needed for social services in Iloilo
Porquia said that more recently, members of the RPA-ABB have been involved in a number of financial scams and other notorious activities, ranging from petty theft to illegal drug running .
“Other members of the RPA-ABB are currently active ranking officials in the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) and serve as mercenaries of the 3rd Infantry Division. Its members are also behind a number of human rights violations against the Tumandok people of Central Panay and even members of the legal activist organizations,” he said.
Porquia also pointed out that the RPA-ABB, in connivance with the 3rd ID, was responsible for abducting former Bayan Panay chairman Nilo Arado and former political prisoner Luisa Posa-Dominado.
“We also believe that some elements of the RPA-ABB are behind the recent intimidation and harassment of activists in Iloilo City, and even to the extent of giving false information to the 3rd ID. Others serve as part of the intelligence network of the J2 section of the Philippine Army to vilify and maintain surveillance on legal activists. The recent activities of the RPA-ABB are by no stretch of the imagination beneficial to the communities they supposedly influence,” he said. “The 3rd Infantry Division should also be held answerable for supporting the RPA-ABB’s atrocities against the people.”
The Bayan Panay leader said the issue of releasing millions to the Pamana Project and to the RPA-ABB should be questioned and raised to the Opapp, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the office of President Benigno Aquino III himself.
“These funds should be utilized to improve much needed social services for the poor. For instance, P31 million ($720 thousand) can buy 17 million sacks of rice that can feed the poor families in Iloilo City. It is also more than enough to supplement the P21 million ($488 thousand) lack of funding for state colleges and universities in Western Visayas,” Porquia said.
He also pointed out that the funds can and should also be used to stop the privatization and corporatization of the Western Visayas Medical Center. “It is also more than enough to provide relief to victims of the recent disasters that struck Iloilo in the recent months,” he said,
Porquia also questioned the government’s sincerity in fighting poverty, saying that the Aquino administration already has exposed a bent towards allocating funds for programs that will not be beneficial to the Filipino people in the long run such as the controversial conditional cash transfer (CCT) scheme and the PPP program. According to him, this latest move on the part of the Aquino government to give funds to the RPA-ABB opens more avenues for corruption.
“Current adviser on the peace process Deles is already under fire for the unexplained expenses of the Pamana program and its versions under previous administrations. It is not surprising that many have become disillusioned and disgusted with the Aquino government’s so-called campaign against corruption, seeing how Aquino’s officials like Deles find it easy to dispense million in funds based on whim,” he said.
“Bayan Panay firmly stands against this arbitrary wasting of public funds for the upkeep of bandits and thieves. Giving funds to the RPA-ABB is even worse than corruption,” he added.
RPA-ABB, paramilitary unit of the AFP
In the meantime, members of the negotiating panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have issued public statements against the RPA-ABB. The NDFP leaders said the RPA-ABB has long degenerated into a private army of businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. and the family of the husband of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Mike Arroyo in the Negros provinces.
Chairman of the NDFP human rights monitoring committee and peace panel member Fidel Agcaoli said that not only has the RPA-ABB become a paramilitary unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and part of military operations that violate the human rights of civilians, the group also functions as hired guns of landlords in Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental. Agcaoili said the group has been a paramilitary unit even before its formal surrender to the Joseph Estrada regime in 2000.
“Members of the RPA-ABB go on hire as security guards of landlords, particularly on Negros Island in the Cojuangco and Arroyo haciendas. Others have become bodyguards and guns-for-hire of politicians, businessmen and mining companies,” he said.
Cojuangco, a major controlling stockholder of San Miguel Corp., has previously been cited as the person who brokered a peace agreement between the RPA-ABB and the Estrada government. The agreement signed on December 6, 2000, however, did not demand that the RPA-ABB surrenders its arms. Present during the signing were then-executive secretary and current senator Edgardo Angara, Cojuangco and former RPA-ABB leader Arturo Tabara. In the agreement, the Estrada government pledged to give the RPA-ABB up to P510 million ( for “development projects” as provided for in Article IV, Section 4, and Article V, Section 1, of the cited agreement. The peace agreement gave the RPA-ABB a special license to carry firearms. All criminal charges against the group leaders were also dropped.
In the agreement, moreover, the government pledged to give the RPA-ABB up to P510 million ($11.8 million) for “development projects” as provided for in Article IV, Section 4, and Article V, Section 1, of the cited agreement.
It was reported that former defense secretary Eduardo Ermita who urged former President Arroyo in 2002 to recognize the RPA-ABB as a paramilitary unit of the AFP.
NDFP peace panel chairman Luis Jalandoni said the RPA-ABB has also acted as a security team of Macapagal Arroyo whenever she visited Negros. In interviews with the media, he said the NDFP made no moves to reintegrate the RPA-ABB into the New People’s Army, much less the Communist Party of the Philippines or the NDFP.
“The RPA-ABB has been acting as a unit of the AFP and actively participates in campaigns against the NPA. It is also guilty of involvement in operations against civilians the AFP wrongfully charges as NPA members,” he said. He also said that the peace agreement with the RPA-ABB also served as a smokescreen for the illegal disbursement of funds during the 2004 elections to bolster Macapagal-Arroyo’s electoral fraud campaign against her closest rival Fernando Poe Jr.
Agcaoili also said that the P31 million ($720 thousand) for the RPA-ABB was the government’s financial reward to the group for its services. In interviews with the media, he said the money was a payoff for the group’s function as a paramilitary unit involved in counter-insurgency operations directed against the CPP-NPA. Agcaoili said complaints against the RPA-ABB have also been submitted to the NDFP-Joint Secretariat in the Human Rights Monitoring Committee monitoring violations against the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
Both leaders pointed out that the fund release to the RPA-ABB is a farce to show that there are peace talks between itself and the government.
“The Opapp wants it to appear that release of funds to the the RPA-ABB and their families is an achievement,” Jalandoni said. He said the Aquino administration wants to save Deles given how the official is being criticized for using the Opapp funds in 2004 to campaign for Macapagal-Arroyo. She’s also under fire for wasting taxpayers’ money on the Pamana scheme,” he said.
Youth groups have warned that the multi-million funds for the RPA-ABB “peace bribe” will lead to militarization in Iloilo and surrounding islands.
Progressive youth groups Anakbayan-Panay and League of Filipino Students-Panay said the money will be used by the AFP paramilitary group to gain footholds in Iloilo and Panay and sow terror in civilian communities.
Anakbayan-Panay Regional Spokesperson Eric Alip said if the Aquino government is sincere in defeating corruption and poverty to achieve a just and lasting peace, then it should resume negotiations with the NDFP and agree on socio-economic reforms “instead of coddling the RPA-ABB gangster clique,” he said.
The Anakbayan spokesperson said the first step to the resumption of peace talks is for Aquino to immediately release NDFP peace negotiators and consultants who are detained on trumped up cases. The Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) signed by the Philippine government and the NDFP states that those involved in the talks cannot be arrested.
“The RPA-ABB is not a legitimate beneficiary of peace funds because it surrendered to the government years ago and is now a special mercenary unit of the AFP,” said LFS-Panay regional spokesman JC Alejandro.