Karapatan on Malacañang’s reorganization of NICA, brgy intel network revival

Karapatan views with grave concern a proposal from an official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to revive the barangay intelligence network (BIN) purportedly to weed out illegal drugs.

This proposal has been announced before with Malacañang issued Memorandum Order No. 54 yesterday, reorganizing the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) to deal with “evolving threats to national security.” While the memorandum calls for the formation of a new office under the NICA to focus on, among others, counter-intelligence and cybersecurity, all it takes is a few adjustments for the newly reorganized intelligence agency to define the illegal drugs trade as an “emerging” or “non-traditional threat.”

Former president Rodrigo Duterte had already described the problem of illegal drugs as a security threat, saying that it had the potential to transform the Philippines into a “narco-state” where the biggest drug lords were high-ranking politicians.

Historically, the BIN, which the DILG would like to revive, was primarily a counter-insurgency instrument that led to the formation of a broad informer network at the barangay level to identify leaders and members of activist organizations on the questionable premise that activist groups comprise the support infrastructure of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Not a few mass leaders and activists have been illegally arrested, unjustly detained on trumped-up charges and planted evidence, abducted, involuntarily disappeared or extrajudicially killed because of the sinister work of the BIN operatives.

Under the reorganized NICA, the revived BIN may be overtly put to work against illegal drugs, but the same barangay-level informer network could easily be utilized for counter-insurgency purposes and integrated into the so-called whole of nation approach. To justify this, the NICA may even cunningly come up with a false narrative that links the illegal drugs trade to the insurgency or the progressive movement, as it has already done in some of the country’s regions.

Under Duterte, the clandestine and state-sanctioned vigilante death squads dispatched against drug suspects needed very little fine tuning to be used to eliminate political activists, human rights defenders and other dissenters and so-called enemies of the state. The covert nature of their operations ensured impunity and lack of accountability.

Meanwhile, we can expect the NICA’s renewed focus on “cybersecurity” to mean intensified cyber-surveillance and scrutiny of target individuals’ email and social media accounts.

Karapatan fears that the revival of the BIN under a reorganized NICA with an expanded anti-people mandate will lead to the further escalation of extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations in barangays across the country.