Arming civilians as ‘force multipliers’

“If you have this coalition, you have a list of people who are there and can arm themselves. I will order the police. If you are qualified, get a gun and help us enforce the laws.”

This was what President Duterte reportedly said, on June 25 at Camp Crame, in his keynote speech after he administered the oath to the leaders of 11 organizations that the Philippine National Police have formed into a coalition. It was dubbed as the Global Coalition of Lingkod Bayan Advocacy Support Groups and Force Multipliers.

The statement touched off strong negative responses from legislators both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Commission on Human Rights, human rights defenders and other groups. Yesterday, the Inquirer came out with an editorial, titled “Road to vigilantism,” reflecting Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s warning that the President’s idea could goad the organizations he addressed into forming vigilante groups.

Taking the cue from Guevarra, other Cabinet members and administration officials have tried to clarify and downplay the implications of what Duterte stated and hasn’t denied saying. “There is no policy yet. I’m sure it will be subjected to full staff work,” ventured his spokesperson.

What really is the objective in forming the coalition, which the PNP asked Duterte to inaugurate and address? More importantly, how did the President regard the coalition’s formation?

We can start by looking into how the PNP described the June 25 event, in its official announcement posted on the government’s website, on June 26. RTV Malacañang has downloaded it, with photographs of the event, on YouTube and Facebook pages.

“The Chief Executive was keynote speaker and administering officer in a grand ceremony in Camp Crame,” the announcement said, “that formalized the creation of a global coalition of international and local organizations capable of providing proactive leadership, direction and guidance to all government and multi-sectoral efforts aimed at helping build a strong collaborative partnership with the community in support of the ongoing campaign against communist insurgency, illegal drugs, extremist terrorism and disaster mitigation.”

It quoted PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar as saying the coalition was formed to “strengthen the trust of the ordinary citizen in the government and to assist the PNP in fostering and strengthening the democratic system of governance.”

He presented “an informative overview of the [coalition] and how it can effectively help the PNP obtain its objectives, along with its current thrusts and programs,” the announcement said, without providing details. It further quoted Eleazar as saying:

“These strategic measures, along with other projects and programs meant to improve the lives of the Filipino people, are proof of the whole-of-nation government approach to end the decades-old armed conflict due to communist insurgency.”

Seeming to dismiss the use of firepower alone as the ultimate solution to end the problem, Eleazar proposed: “What is needed is to present a better ideology to deny [the insurgents] the opportunity to recruit and, eventually, win the hearts and minds not only of the members of the CPP-NPA but also of those who are included in their support system in the grassroots.”

President Duterte commended the PNP for “taking the initiative to establish a shift in strategy” in dealing with the 53-year-old insurgency, the announcement said. He deemed this as a “significant contribution to the objectives of NTF-ELCAC [National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict] to once and for all put a decisive end to the long-running insurgency.”

(The NTF-ELCAC was formed under Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70, issued in December 2018. While he heads it as chairman, it’s largely directed by his national security adviser, Hermogenes Esperon Jr.)

Acknowledging the support offered by the 11 organizations in the coalition, Duterte expressed confidence that through them, the PNP “can simply access, gather, mobilize and expand the pool of warm bodies and resources from different government agencies and sectoral organizations… to complement the efforts of various law enforcement units in the fight against illegal drugs, insurgency and terrorism.”

Although Duterte added the coalition could also help implement health protocols and synergize the implementation of programs at all levels, the essential focus of efforts is pursuing the NTF-ELCAC’s counterinsurgency objectives.

This brings up the question about the 11 organizations brought together by the PNP to undertake the above-cited tasks.

These organizations were introduced, in the official announcement, as the following: Kabataan Kontra Droga at Terorismo, National Coalition of Information Technology Advocates for Change, Joint Industrial Peace Concerns Office/Alliance for Industrial Peace Program, Kaligkasan, International and Local Help Desk, Global Peace Community Relations, Anti-Crime Community and Emergency Response Team, Association of Chiefs of Police of the Philippines Inc., “affiliated nongovernment organizations” Foreign National Keepers Network, Project JUANA (Magdalena mission), barangay-based organizations and faith-based organizations.

Following Guevarra’s warning against arming these groups, Eleazar sought to assure the public that the PNP or the government would not provide them with firearms.

“Force multipliers” – which usually complement the forces of the military and police – “are expected to only give information and not undertake law enforcement,” Eleazar said.

Except for citizen’s arrest, he hastened to add.

“Volunteers… who want to get firearms need to apply… and would have to go through a needle’s eye,” he pointed out.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año weighed in on the issue. He said arming civilian force multipliers only applies to groups in communities under the influence of the CPP-NPA. President Duterte had clarified this point during their meeting, he added.

A critical issue is the inclusion in the coalition of an organization of foreigners living in the country: the Foreign National Keepers Network. Its website says it was organized by the PNP in March 2014 to be its “nationwide asset.” Among others, it’s supposedly aimed to build the “expats” personal relationships with local PNP officers, provide a forum to express their concerns and serve as platform for expats to aid the police in the event of natural disasters.

But to harness foreigners in counterinsurgency operations?

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Published in The Philippine Star
July 3, 2021

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