Philippine military

Why did the Philippines reactivate its military counterintelligence group? 

Bea Cupin

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Why did the Philippines reactivate its military counterintelligence group? 

COUNTERINTELLIGENCE. Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner Jr. and the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Major General Ferdinand Barandon, unfurl the AFP Counterintelligence Group banner during the Reactivation Ceremony of the AFPCIG on January 18, 2024, in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Armed Forces of the Philippines

The group's mission includes counter-destabilization, counter-infiltration, counter-espionage, and counter-sabotage

MANILA, Philippines – Some three decades ago, the Philippines’ then commander-in-chief, the late Fidel V. Ramos, concluded that the military’s counterintelligence unit was successful in the “neutralization and prosecution of scalawags” in its ranks.

So on October 16, 1995, Ramos ordered the creation of a “Presidential Task Force on Intelligence and Counterintelligence Against Scalawags.”

The task force then had the power to “conduct intelligence and counterintelligence operations to detect and identify active and former military and police personnel and their cohorts involved in criminal activities,” according to Executive Order No. 280, issued in 1995 and signed by Ramos.

Ramos had also disbanded the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’ Counterintelligence Group, according to AFP spokesperson Colonel Francel Padilla.

Yet 34 years after it was first organized on December 29, 1989, 28 years after its replacement task force was created, and almost two decades after its revival under former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the AFP has again reinstated the Counterintelligence Group (CIG).

AFP chief General Romeo Brawner Jr. himself led the reactivation ceremony of the AFP-CIG in ceremonies held on January 18. The unit was officially reactivated on January 11.

It is headed by Colonel Jonathan Manio, under the supervision of AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence Major General Ferdinand Barandon. Rappler has asked the AFP for general staffing details of the AFP-CIG and its structure, but has yet to receive a reply as of this posting

What will it be doing?

In a release to media, Padilla explained that the CIG was reactivated “with the mission to conduct counterintelligence support nationwide in line with the AFP’s mission.”

Padilla added, “Upon its reactivation, AFPCIG’s mission has been expanded from just counter-destabilization to performing counter-infiltration, counter-espionage, and counter-sabotage.”

The United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, in a 1957 secret memorandum that’s since been made public, defines counterintelligence as “intelligence activity, with resultant information product, which is undertaken to protect the security of the nation, and its personnel and installations abroad, against espionage, counterespionage, sabotage as subversion.”

The note further reads, “As an activity, counterintelligence is the process of procuring, developing, recording, and disseminating information concerning espionage, counterespionage, sabotage, and subversion directed against the national security, and of penetrating, manipulating, or repressing individuals, groups, or organizations conducting or capable of conducting such acts.”

REACTIVATION. The Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines, General Romeo Brawner Jr. PA, hands over the Office Symbol to the Acting Commander of the AFP Counterintelligence Group (AFPCIG), Colonel Jonathan Manio PA, during the Reactivation Ceremony of the AFPCIG on January 18, 2024, in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. Photo by Armed Forces of the Philippines
What did it do before?

Under the late president Cory Aquino, the AFPCIG worked on chasing after rebel soldiers who had resorted to crime in the aftermath of failed coup attempts, the office of now-Senator Win Gatchalian noted in a release during his time in the House of Representatives.

A member of the Lower House then, Gatchalian was calling for the creation of a counterintelligence task force for the police.

Under Ramos, the group was disbanded and a presidential task force was created to go after the same “scalawags.” Its responsibilities concerned the illegal activities of soldiers and other uniformed personnel.

Then, in 2005 – according to a book by the Philippine Center of Excellence in Defense, Development and Security, the National Defense College of the Philippines, and the Security Reform Initiative Inc. – Arroyo revived the AFPCIG “to monitor any allegation of destabilization plots and corruption inside the military” after the uprising known as EDSA Tres.

Why was it reactivated?

Padilla, in an interview with state-run PTV’s Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon, said the AFP routinely recalibrates its makeup depending on its goals.

“Our units will also adjust to the pressing situation…we marry the different units according to the threats we are facing,” she explained.

“[It was reactivated] based on the pronouncement that we will enhance our intelligence-gathering measures,” Padilla added.

The AFP itself has not gone into details about the newly-reinstated CIG, including how big the unit would be and what its specific tasks will be. The group exists alongside the Intelligence Service of the AFP as separate units of the military.

Coup rumors

Its reactivation in the beginning of 2024 comes amid persistent rumors and speculation of misgivings and unrest among the military – retired soldiers, as well as those in active service.

No less than Brawner had confirmed in November 2023 that he had spoken to retired military officials behind a supposed plot to oust President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The AFP would try to walk back Brawner’s statements, with then-AFP spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar claiming that the AFP chief was “misquoted.”

Months later, on January 4, 2024, Brawner would issue a statement “on the emerging challenges of 2024.”

The AFP chief, seemingly unprompted – not by the defense media, at least – said: “The Armed Forces of the Philippines stands firm in its unwavering loyalty to the Constitution and its solemn commitment to fulfill its mandate. The men and women of the AFP remain steadfast in their role as the guardians of our nation’s sovereignty and defender of democratic principles.”

The New Year statement was preceded by a little-known retired military officer claiming loyalty to Vice President Sara Duterte, whom he said was “president now.”

Several Marcos policies have, perhaps, contributed to unease in the military – or at least the perception of unrest. Marcos’ former finance chief, in a surprise press conference in March 2023, announced that the President had given the green light for a dramatic change to the military’s generous and expensive pension system.

Benjamin Diokno, who has since been replaced as economic team head, said then that Marcos was “willing to spend his political capital” to introduce military pension reform.

The Philippine government had also announced its intention to resume peace talks with the communists. Rappler executive editor Glenda Gloria also noted Marcos’ “distance” from military generals as another issue hounding the commander-in-chief.

In May 2023, in response to complaints from military generals, Marcos approved tweaks to a Rodrigo Duterte-era law that introduced fixed terms for the AFP’s top officials.

During the 2024 New Year’s call, Marcos said he had approved funds for rice subsidies and better medical service for the military. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.