By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Human rights groups called for the immediate dismantling of paramilitary forces after a high-ranking military official announced that the government would do so by 2016.
In a report by online news site Interaskyon.com, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, commanding general of the Philippine Army, said he sees the dismantling of 60,000 paramilitary forces in the country by 2016, within the end of the implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Bautista said that one premise is the abandonment of armed struggle by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
The Aquino administration failed to disband the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and the Special Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary (SCAA) despite overwhelming clamor from local and international human rights groups.
“Disbanding the paramilitary forces [Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) and Special Citizens Active Auxiliaries (SCAA)] is a welcome move but the armed forces need not wait for 2016 to do this. It should dismantle them now,” said Carlos Conde, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Cristina Palabay, spokeswoman of Karapatan, said there should be no ifs and buts. “The Armed Forces of the Philippines and President Benigno Aquino III should disband all Cafgu, SCAA and CVOs [civilian volunteer organizations] now lest another Maguindanao massacre and other human rights violations happen again.”
The massacre on November 16, 2009, allegedly participated in by paramilitary groups linked with the powerful Ampatuan clan, claimed the lives of 56 individuals, including 32 journalists. One journalist remains missing to this day.
Conde said the Cafgus and the SCAA have a long history of human-rights abuses with impunity. The government should hold accountable paramilitary members implicated in abuses immediately.”
Palabay said all executive orders regarding the creation of these groups should be revoked and all funds appropriated for these purposes should be realigned for education, health and other social services.
Palabay said the AFP’s preconditions are “nothing but veiled attempts to justify the existence of these paramilitary groups.
In the same vein, Conde said: “It’s not realistic to disband paramilitaries only once the communist New People’s Army abandon their armed struggle as Bautista claims. The government has a duty to protect human rights and punish state forces who violate these rights. This obligation is not contingent on the behavior of insurgent groups.”
Both groups urged the Philippine government to heed recommendations by several countries during the recently-concluded Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, one of which was the dismantling of paramilitary forces.
The US, during the session in Geneva, urged the Philippines to “take new additional measures to ensure that the military exercises full control over Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units and the police over Civilian Volunteer Organizations, holding these units accountable for the Philippines’ obligations under international human rights law.”