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AFP tries NPA tactics to stem rebellion

CAFGU FORMATION With Mt. Isarog on the backdrop, some of the members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) members take formation at Camp Elias Angeles in Pili, Camarines Sur province.  JUAN ESCANDOR JR.

CAFGU FORMATION With Mt. Isarog on the backdrop, some of the members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) members take formation at Camp Elias Angeles in Pili, Camarines Sur province. JUAN ESCANDOR JR.

Life for Ryan Bonite had always been an uphill climb as far as he could remember. His farming parents struggled to eke out a living in a remote village in Tigaon, Camarines Sur province.

Now 22, Bonite believes that he had no way out of a “life of misery” until he became a member of the paramilitary Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit in 2012. He was barely out of his teens when he enlisted as Cafgu Active Auxiliary (CAA).

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“Anywhere I turned, it seemed to be that I am on a dead end, and I felt I was cursed to live in abject poverty in my lifetime,” he said. He graduated from high school in their barangay but failed to land a decent job; he could not even raise fare money to go to the town center and apply for work.

Mark Joseph Ronato, 27, another Cafgu member, has the same story. His enlistment, he said, lifted him out of a state of hopelessness.

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Nowadays, Bonite, Ronato and the rest of the CAAs look forward to receiving their monthly “allowance” from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which has direct supervision over Cafgus. They work for the military for only 15 days and are free to engage in farming and other productive activities for the rest of the month.

This year, the allowance was raised to P4,500 a month from P2,700.

More importantly, Cafgu members are benefiting from Valor Multi-Purpose Cooperative that the Army’s 22nd Infantry Battalion (IB) has initiated for the CAAs and soldiers belonging to the unit. The organization’s chair, MSgt. Candido Gapac, said Cafgu members were beginning to be empowered.

Ronato said the cooperative had weaned him away from loan sharks, whom he used to run to whenever he was in dire need of cash. With its easy loan interest of only 2.5 percent, he is able to send a sibling to college.

Poor families

Col. Andrew D. Costelo, commanding officer of the 22nd IB and the Cafgu battalion in Bicol, said the Army had been recruiting CAAs from poor farming families in the villages of Bicol, which are prime targets of the communist New People’s Army (NPA). It is giving the rebels a dose of their own medicine, with the Army embracing some of the NPA ways of organizing communities to join the revolutionary movement, he said.

Costelo said the AFP had learned the NPA’s tactics to “arouse, organize and mobilize” in influencing communities and make these work in favor of the government from rebels who had surrendered and after years of studying the documents seized from them. The basic principles, he said, were discussed in military planning sessions of Oplan Bayanihan.

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The Army in Bicol has already organized the youths and federated them in a regional structure through leadership training sessions and seminars held at the 9th Infantry Division in Pili, Camarines Sur.

Major Gen. Yerson Depayso, division commander, said the acquired tactics had been effective in checking efforts of leftist groups suspected of having links to the NPA from mass mobilization. From hundreds of people who usually joined rallies sponsored by these groups in Camarines Sur, the number has dwindled to less than a hundred, he said.

Moreover, the NPA troop strength in Bicol has been reduced from more than 1,000 in the 1980s to about 200 scattered in different provinces in the region, Depayso said.

Human rights violations

Karapatan, a militant group, however, charged that the Army’s organizing and mobilization tactics had worsened the situation of human rights violations in Bicol’s rural areas.

According to its regional coordinator, Vince Casilihan, the group has documented 1,708 victims of human rights violations all over the region under the Aquino administration. Sixty cases were victims of extrajudicial killings and 39 were detained for political reasons.

The AFP “style” of community organizing is “deceptive” because it does not address the root causes of the problem why people are poor and oppressed, Casilihan said. It shows the failure of Oplan Bayanihan to win the hearts and minds of the people, he said.

Oplan Bayanihan, he added, had brought more oppression to the civilian population and aimed at obliterating the struggle for genuine reforms to achieve more social services, and against corruption and the sellout of the nation’s sovereignty.

The AFP has been working hard to correct two general impressions about the Cafgu, said Herman Joseph S. Kraft, assistant professor of political science at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, in his book “Primed and Purposeful,” which studied armed groups in the Philippines.

“The first involves its relationship with its antecedents (referring to the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Forces [ICHDF] comprised of private citizens armed by the state to help counter the NPA threat during the Marcos era),” he said. “The second has to do with the idea that Cafgu is a paramilitary organization.”

Kraft traced the Marcos-era ICHDF’s control under the defunct Philippine Constabulary—“itself known for human rights abuses”—in an essay “The Foibles of Armed Citizenry: Armed Auxiliaries of the State and Private Armed Groups in the Philippines.”

Because of its notorious reputation as human rights violator, the ICHDF was dissolved when Corazon Aquino came into power in 1986 after the Edsa People Power Revolution, he said. But within a year of dissolution, the Cafgu was born to “confront the growing communist insurgency.”

The concept of Cafgu’s creation was supposed to be based on the “citizen armed force” mandated by the 1987 Constitution and, later, by Republic Act No. 7077, also known as the AFP Reservist Act of 1991, making Cafgu an integral part of the AFP reserve force.

Reserve force

Kraft said the difference between the ICHDF and the Cafgu was that the latter was a regular reserve force and not paramilitary unit convened only for counterinsurgency. Being a regular reserve force, the Cafgu is integrated into the military chain of command and is subject to all applicable military laws, rules and regulation, he added.

All Cafgu members receive reservist serial number, which officially make them part of the AFP and, as such, are entitled to allowances and other AFP benefits. They are “enrolled in a company-sized units referred as CAA and activated through a process of selective mobilization when insurgent activity is high,” Kraft said.

From 1988-2006, he estimated Cafgu strength all over the country to have swelled from 32,360 to 52,748.

“By holding and defending areas cleared of insurgent influence and presence, CAAs free up regular AFP units for the more difficult task of going after armed insurgent forces,” he said.

Costelo said that from lectures, CAA recruits were learning about the socioeconomic and political situation in the country and an analysis of society to raise their consciousness and bring a social dimension to the basic military training they undergo.

“CAAs are composed of courageous civilian volunteers who signified to be part of the territorial forces in securing their local communities against the lawless elements that foster threats in their locality,” Costelo said. They come from among the youths in the locality and must have clean records and be of good standing, he stressed.

Using the NPA strategy of giving legal face to their organized groups that bring grievances to the public through mass movement, the Army organized the CAAs and their supporters into a people’s organization registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission on Aug. 11, 2014.

A month later, the Army introduced the cooperative movement to the CAAs, with each of them paying a membership fee of P100, according to 1st Lt. Joash Pramis, civil military operations officer of the 22nd IB.

By November 2014, 3,971 CAAs and 356 Army personnel in the region have joined the cooperative, pooling a total of P598,709 from membership fee, which became the startup capital when it was registered with the Cooperative Development Authority. Now, they have access to cheaper basic commodities and low interest loans, Pramis said.

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TAGS: Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit, Insurgency, news, NPA, Regions
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