Philippines must get rid of its militias now

Militia recruits do not receive the rigorous training given to personnel of the armed forces or the police. At most, they are given very basic weapons training, enough to enable them to handle the firearms they are given from the Government’s arsenal. Militia recruits certainly do not receive training on basic military discipline or law enforcement practices, much less on general human rights principles.

The lax recruitment practices and the lack of training, especially on basic policing principles and applicable human rights standards, have resulted in numerous human rights abuses committed by militias, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

For decades, human rights groups have raised serious concerns about these abuses. In 2015, CAFGU members, along with several military personnel, were alleged to have been involved in the extrajudicial killing of three human rights defenders from the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) in Surigao del Sur.

Bills were presented in the past seeking to repeal Executive Order 264 and demobilize these militias, but these were never passed.

Government commitment

During the second cycle of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2014, the Philippines Government committed to take measures to exert more control over these militias. The government also committed to holding these militias accountable pursuant to the Philippines’ obligations under international human rights law.

The 2015 General Appropriations Act provides that no new CAFGUs shall be recruited in anticipation of the planned demobilization of the group “as a result of the implementation of the Revised AFP [Armed Forces] Modernization Program”. That is indeed an important step. However, to accelerate the demobilization of these groups and solidify the commitments made by the Philippines during the UPR, lawmakers should pass a law repealing Executive Order 264 and demobilizing all militias in the country. 

Demobilizing the militias should not only mean formally disbanding the groups and requiring their members to turn in their firearms. The law should also provide for the practical implementation by the Philippines of its international human rights obligation to investigate all allegations of human rights abuses made against members of these groups so that the perpetrators of such abuses are brought to justice. Reparations for victims and their families must also be provided under the law.

Enacting this law would be one positive outcome of these hearings. The Senate must indeed continue to address the crisis of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under President Duterte so the killings will stop and the killers brought to justice. 

But if one result of the hearings would be to abolish militias and properly demobilize the current members of these dangerous institutions, it would be an important step towards ending the human rights violations and abuses committed by militias and Government-sponsored death squads in the Philippines. –


Emerlynne Gil is a Senior International Legal Adviser of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). Her work at the ICJ involves providing legal analysis to human rights cases in Southeast Asia, particularly focusing on national security laws, counter-terrorism and human rights, and women’s human rights issues.