By Sarsi Pimentel and Cherry de Belen
MANILA, Philippines – The activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) assailed on Monday Liberal Party (LP) presidential standard bearer Senator Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III over his position favoring the retention and proliferation of paramilitary forces popularly known as CAFGUs (Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Units) and CVOs (Civilian Volunteer Organizations) to defend communities against communist rebels and Islamic militants.
Aquino, one of the frontrunners in the May 10 presidential election had told Kenneth Roth, executive director of the US-based human rights group Human Rights Watch that paramilitary groups are essential in the fight against the New People’s Army and other armed groups all over the country. The LP presidential standard bearer made the response when asked by Roth on how his administration would deal with private armies, which are established and supported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Roth said leading presidential candidates in the May 2010 polls like Aquino lack clear policies on how to solve human rights issues and problems arising from the use and spread of private armies all over the country.
The human rights watchdog was hopeful the next President understands that the issue of private armies is a huge problem and it is something to be tackled as matter of priority adding that it will propose a set of legislative and executive measures to the next administration on how to resolve human rights problems arising from proliferation of private armies.
“We are not surprise with the position taken by Senator Aquino in favor of paramilitary forces. The Cojuangco-Aquino family also formed and availed the services of private armies to keep Hacienda Luisita under feudal and brutal rule. If he wins the presidency in 2010, Noynoy and family will surely revive and strengthen their private armed group in the name of their unlawful and immoral claim on Hacienda Luisita,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap.
Citing the 2009 human rights report filed by Karapatan, Hicap said from January 2001 to December 2009, the Arroyo administration committed grave human rights violations, including but not limited to cases involving 1,188 victims of extrajudicial killings and 205 victims of enforced disappearances, majority of these victims are leftwing activists and critics of the Arroyo government.
Hicap said the CAFGUs and other paramilitary forces and private armies are the traditional partners in crimes of the AFP in terrorizing communities believed to be strongholds of the New People’s Army or under the political influence of militant organizations which the military alleged as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines, its armed group- the NPA and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
On January, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) decision to exempt the Civilian Active Auxiliaries (CAA) from the total gun ban triggered an outrage among human rights activists in the country.
Pamalakaya asserted the Comelec decision is extremely dangerous, politically incorrect and fatally flawed, asserting that these CAAs formerly known as Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs) are commissioned as private armies and armed goons by warlord politicians to further their political interests.
The group said poll body’s decision puts a legal blanket to the killing spree and human rights violation activities of paramilitary units, which they perform in accordance with the cruel intention and sinister agenda of the sitting presidency in Malacanang, the pro-Arroyo military clique and their warlord allies.
Pamalakaya said the correct treatment of Comelec in dealing with CAFGUs is to officially disband these paramilitary groups due to their long-running violations of human rights. The group said the tragic lessons drawn from the Nov.23 Maguindanao massacre last year should have compelled poll officials to direct the AFP to permanently dismantle all existing CAFGUs and quit from hiring fresh recruits to avoid if not minimize election related violence.
Pamalakaya said the Maguindanao massacre should compel Aquino and other presidentiables to effectively drop this blueprint for terror and impunity rather than adopt a pro-paramilitary forces policy.
The Comelec said the CAAs are allowed to carry firearms because they are considered units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which are exempted from the nationwide gun ban imposed by the poll body during election period.
Under Comelec resolution 8742 made effective last January 11, amending Resolution 8714, the CAFGU was exempted from gun ban along with members of the Presidential Security Group, Bureau of Fire Protection, Optical Media Board, the treasurers and deputy treasurers and members of the Internal Security Division of the Bureau of Treasury.
Prior to Comelec promulgation of Resolution 8714, Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao opposed the disarming of CAAs because these paramilitary groups are tapped by fishing companies to secure their venture in the South. For his part, Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, chief of Western Command said as far as the military is concerned, the CAFGUs are part of the military organization and not all CAFGUs are utilized by private companies operating in far flung areas. #