MANILA, Philippines – Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday, November 19, hit a top Philippine National Police (PNP) official's statement likening its volunteer network for the government’s anti-crime campaign to the notorious “Alsa Masa” of the 1980s.
In a statement, Carlos Conde of HRW’s Asia Division said that tapping groups like Alsa Masa for grassroots intelligence gathering “will worsen the human rights calamity” in the country.
“Tapping this network to gather more intelligence – often nothing more than gossip and raw, unverified information – for use in the murderous campaign by the Duterte administration against suspected drug users and suspected criminals will only mean more extrajudicial deaths,” he said.
PNP-Calabarzon Director Edward Carranza on Saturday, November 17, said that the Community Mobilization Project (CMP), which he likened to the Alsa Masa of Davao, could be replicated throughout the country.
The initiative, Carranza added, "can address really the spread of terrorism, to finally end illegal drugs and embolden the public."
Alsa Masa was first established first as a group to combat communists in Mindanao. According to a 1992 study on Philippine vigilante groups, members conducted patrols in the city, operated checkpoints, collected intelligence for the police, and exercised the right of citizen arrest. (FAST FACTS: What’s the Alsa Masa?)
But it eventually gained notoriety for its “own lawless activities, including liquidations of suspected rebels,” according to a report by the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights.
Utilizing Alsa Masa-like groups is just “another weapon to violate the rights of citizens,” Conde said.
If it pushes through, Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said the government should implement strict guidelines to avoid making the same human rights violations the group made in the 1980s.
“The government must assure the country that this would not follow the history of the ‘Alsa Masa’ in 1980s known for its abuses, especially that the government has yet to resolve allegations of human rights violations allegedly linked to the current government drug campaign,” De Guia said.
This is not the first time the idea of utilizing Alsa Masa ideals is floated to address crime and illegal drugs in the country.
In 2017, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said it will review Alsa Masa to get citizens more involved in the government’s anti-crime efforts.
The anti-illegal drugs campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte has been widely criticized due to its violent and bloody nature. (READ: The Impunity Series)
Police operations led to the death of almost 5,000 suspected drug personalities, according to latest data from the PNP. Human rights groups meanwhile peg the number at 20,000, and include victims of vigilante killings. – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.