MAKATI CITY, Philippines (1st UPDATE) --New York-based international group Human Rights Watch (HRW) is disappointed that the leading presidential candidates in the Philippines lack commitment to abolish the "private armies" that are responsible for human rights abuses in the Philippines.
HRW executive director, Kenneth Roth, who flew to Manila to speak with the candidates, was particularly concerned with the supposed "platitude" and "word game" of Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.
"He waxed eloquently about his desire to rid the country of private army. He repeated this a number of times.... Unfortunately, he was playing word games," Roth told reporters on Saturday.
"When we asked him whether he vows to rid the country of private armies meant that he was going to end reliance on special CAFGUs, the civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs), and police auxiliary units--in other words, the real paramilitary forces that are used as private armies--he said no. Those were all force multipliers in his view," Roth added.
Roth lamented Aquino's "narrow" definition of a private army. He said Aquino only committed to go after "forces that are completely autonomous from government authorized forces."
Roth said the November 2009 massacre of 57 civilians in Maguindanao was not committed by "genuinely private armies." He said the special CAFGUs, CVOs, and police auxiliary units are the ones usually behind human rights abuses.
"Whenever you arm civilian groups you are inviting a problem. Civilian groups, by definition, do not have the discipline, the training, or the chain of command that are necessary to prevent abuse. Those who say that the paramilitary forces are necessary to fight insurgency, are necessary to provide security, are basically saying that serious human rights violations are necessary to fight the insurgency," Roth said.
"You will never rein them in. You are inviting abuse of those forces for whatever local political vendetta the power of be might have," he added.
Roth said it is crucial that the next Philippine president build up the army and the police--increase their numbers--rather than subcontracting to civilian armed forces. While the army and the police are not necessarily clean, Roth said there's a better chance with them because it's easier to hold them accountable.
Sought for comment, LP campaign manager Florencio "Butch" Abad said Roth's criticism is unfair and his conclusion erroneous.
"I don't think Ken Roth was being fair. Sen. Aquino was unequivocal about abolishing private armies. He only had a few minutes with Sen. Aquino while getting down the elevator. He was trying to pin him down on complicated issues," Abad told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.
"Sen. Aquino asked Roth to put his questions down in writing so he can properly reply to him. He has not done that yet. So how can Roth arrive at such a conclusion?" Abad added.
Villar barely passes
Roth said Villar had better understanding of the problem, but he fell short of giving HRW a firm commitment to prioritize the abolition of private armies.
HRW was able to talk to former President Joseph Estrada's spokesperson Ralph Calinisan, but Roth said he didn't provide details on Estrada's security platform.
Former Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. was unable to accommodate the HRW because of his campaign schedule.
"While we found greater candor on Villar's part, a more honest recognition of the problem, we didn't get from him the firm commitment we wanted to end reliance on paramilitary forces," Roth said.
Roth said Villar understands that the long term solution is to increase the size of government forces. "But he didn't feel he can move there quickly because of budgetary constraints. He's not sure where the funds will come from to increase the size of the army and the police."
"The problem is, that basically means he is going to continue to rely on these forces that have been responsible for this longstanding pattern of murder and atrocities," Roth added.
What HRW wanted was for the to establish a timetable to move from reliance on these unaccountable armed forces. Roth said the Filipino electorate should demand this from the candidates. (abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak)