MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government should disband both private and state-backed paramilitaries in preparation for the May 2013 senatorial and local elections, a human rights group said Friday, March 30.
In a statement, Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that while the promise of President Benigno Aquino III to dismantle private armies is a “necessary step to end election violence” in the country, he should do more and “disband the state paramilitary forces that are frequently as abusive.”
Paramilitary members were part of the Ampatuan-family “private army” responsible for the November 2009 massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao, the statement said. “Alleged abuses by paramilitary force members are rarely investigated or prosecuted, creating a climate of impunity that encourages further violations.”
On March 28, Mr Aquino announced that the Philippine National Police had “neutralized” 28 private armed groups, as of June 2011, arresting 106 suspects. He said the PNP has an “extensive list” of these groups, and that 86 such groups remain.
Human Rights Watch said the police should publish the list of private armies and explain what steps it has taken to look into, and correct, the involvement of public officials in these groups.
Some of the government-backed civilian militias are the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGUs), the Special CAFGU Active Auxiliary, Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs), and Police Auxiliary Units, according to Human Rights Watch.
The group recalled the President’s campaign promise to revoke Executive Order 546 – signed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2006 – that gave the state legal grounds to arm civilian organizations involved in counter-insurgency work.
“I will revoke EO546,” Human Rights Watch quoted Mr Aquino as saying during the 2010 presidential campaign. “Never again will public funds be used to support and maintain a private security force.”
But the group noted that in a meeting with journalists last November 2010, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima reportedly told them that the President is not prepared to scrap the EO. The President himself said he’s not inclined to let go of armed civilian militias. – Rappler.com