Paramilitary groups, particularly the Magahat-Bagani, the Alamara, and the Alsa Lumad in Mindanao, are fast gaining notoriety, not only for their brutality but also with the impunity that these groups enjoy under the Aquino government. They have committed killings, nay massacres, and they do not bother to hide their evil deeds, killing in broad daylight for all community members to see.
The last time paramilitary groups gained as much notoriety was in the late 80s, during the administration of the late Cory Aquino, current Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s mother. The context was the Total War against the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front launched by the first Aquino administration. The Total War was implemented under Oplan Lambat Bitag 1 and 2.
Coming off from the Marcos dictatorship, the first Aquino administration could not appear to be reprising the militarist approach of its predecessor. At the same time, the US, after supporting military dictatorships during the 70s and suffering politically for it, wanted to make it appear that it had shifted to promoting democracies in pushing for its geopolitical and economic interests. And to blunt, at least publicly, the sharp edge of its counterinsurgency, counter-terror operations – conceived as the Low Intensity Conflict strategy – the US prescribed the formation and use of paramilitary groups to do the “dirty work.”
Thus, came to being cult groups called by different colors – pulahan (red), greenan (green) – the Tadtad (literally translated as chop repeatedly), the Alsa Masa, among others. A photo of members of Tadtad holding a decapitated head of a suspected NPA supporter gained international infamy. As expected, the paramilitary cult groups were known for their brutality, brazenness and impunity. The purpose, as US counter-insurgency, counter-terror manuals revealed, was to generate enough terror and fear so that communities, which were suspected of supporting the armed revolutionaries, would be forced to shift loyalties to the government side. It is based on the assumption that communities support armed rebel groups out of fear and thus, the need to employ counter-terror so that the people would fear the government more than the rebel groups.
An international fact finding mission, headed by former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, was held to look into the operations of and human rights violations being committed by paramilitary cults. The first Aquino administration was forced to disband the paramilitary cults due to strong local and international pressure. In its place, the first Aquino administration organized the Citizens Armed Geographical Unit (CAFGU), promising that the paramilitary group would be closely supervised by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
And now the administration of the son Benigno Aquino III is reprising the formation of paramilitary groups, in line with its counterinsurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan. This is still in line with US counterinsurgency strategy. But in the case of US wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Armed Forces uses private military contractors to do the “dirty work” for them.
What is worse now is that the second Aquino administration has been pitting Lumad vs. Lumad. It has been arming groups of Lumad, promising bribes and privileges once mining companies are able to begin their operations in Lumad lands.
The US has been doing this in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya with disastrous results. Not only did it instigate violent factional strife, it resulted in chaos and a total breakdown of political and social structures. The US has been reprising it here in the Philippines, as part of its pivot to Asia, to push for its geopolitical and economic interests.
The arming of groups of Lumad to kill their own kin to push for mining interests and as part of the Aquino administration’s counter-insurgency strategy has got to stop. And only a strong local and international public pressure could put a stop to this, just like during the first Aquino administration.