AFP should comply with Duterte’s order to take paramilitary groups out of communities

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should follow Pres. Duterte’s order to control government-backed paramilitary groups such as Bagani and halt their operations in the communities,” Karapatan secretary general, Cristina Palabay, said after Pres. Rodrigo Duterte issued a verbal order Friday that the Philippine Army take full control of the Bagani and other paramilitary groups responsible for killings in Bukidnon, Surigao and North Cotabato. 

“Finally, a president of the Philippine government recognized and openly admitted that armed groups like the Bagani paramilitary are backed by the government,” Palabay said. “There should be no reason for the AFP to deny their links now. Instead, the AFP should follow their Commander-in-Chief’s order and pull-out all paramilitary troops out of the communities,” Palabay continued. 

From July 2010 to June 30, 2016, Karapatan documented 94 individuals killed by government-backed paramilitary troops. “These are the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary (SCAA), Investment Defense Force (IDF), and other groups such as the Magahat-Bagani Force and Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB), among others,” Palabay mentioned some of the groups reported to have perpetrated gross human rights and peoples violations in many peasant and indigenous peoples communities.

On September 1, 2015, the Magahat-Bagani forces with the 36th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army killed school executive director Emerito Samarca and Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. On July 30, 2016, six-months pregnant Makenet Gayoran was killed, while several community residents, including children, were injured in a shooting rampage of the paramilitary group New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform (NIPAR), which is under the command of the 8th IBPA. The RPA-ABB paramilitary group, which operates in Negros and Panay Island, is said to be responsible for the killings of Aklan councilor Fernando Baldomero and Romeo Capalla. 

More recently, on September 13, 2016, couple Totong Gascon, 63, and Rita Gascon, 66, both peasants from Sitio Kiatao, Brgy. Lanao, Arakan, Cotabato, were killed by Bagani paramilitary forces conducting military operations in the area since August 2016 with the 37th IBPA, according to initial reports by Karapatan-Southern Mindanao. Karapatan is still unable to conduct a fact-finding mission in the said community due to security considerations, in the light of the military operations of the AFP in the area. 

According to Karapatan, at least 25 paramilitary groups operate in the country under the command of the AFP. Public funds amounting to at least PhP5 billion were annually allocated for the said groups through the Department of National Defense (DND) budget under the Aquino administration, aside from the funding through the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) principally administered by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) under Teresita Deles. 

In October 2011, former Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III backed the AFP proposal to deploy SCAAs to protect the interests of mining corporations. 

In an alternative report submitted to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights for the 27th Session of the Universal Periodic Review in the United Nations Human Rights Council, Karapatan cited that the “Government of the Philippines (GPH) has yet to disband paramilitary groups and repeal Executive Order 546, which allows the creation and use of paramilitary forces, despite several Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations and a European Parliament resolution.” 

In the said report, Karapatan stated that “the Aquino (administration) legitimized the creation of investment defense forces to protect interests of mining corporations. With this, human rights violations instigated by paramilitary forces continued during Aquino … which included the killing of anti-mining activist Juvy Capion and her two sons; of Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio; of indigenous people’s leader Jimmy Liguyon, among many others.   

“With the unilateral ceasefire declaration of the Duterte administration, we recommend the complete pull-out of paramilitary troops in communities and their total disbandment. There should be no more public funds for these murderers,” Palabay concluded.