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Civilian Home Defense Force

The Civilian Home Defense Force was a militia force organized during the Marcos years, whose name became synonymous with brutality. The basic mission of paramilitary forces is to support the armed forces in maintaining a secured environment by safeguarding the community against the communist insurgents. The civilian guards were organized in 1949 to fight the Huk insurgents. The guards took orders from the military but they were tied directly to the local elites and the people disliked them for having a bad reputation.

The Barrio Self- Defense Units were organized in 1971 after the civilian guards were disbanded to assist the Philippine Constabulary in its campaign against the Communists Party of the Philippines. The main motive of the BSDU was to take responsibility for the immediate defense of the local community from the growing communist movement. Their primary task was intelligence and information gathering for identifying and locating the communist insurgents. The BSDU became an active component of the Philippine Constabulary in the conduct of combat operations against the communist insurgents.

In 1976, BSDU was disbanded and a new paramilitary unit called Civilian Home Defense Force [CHDF] was formed and organized to assist the AFP in counterinsurgency campaigns but its mission was focused on village defense under the supervision of the police and the army.

Presidential Decree 1016 mandated the creation of the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Forces (ICHDF) on September 22, 1976 in order to assist the armed forces in the expeditious and effective solution to the peace and order problem throughout the country and to accelerate socio- economic development.

There were three categories of CHDF that had close connection to the military and the elite:

  1. Active reservists, including planters which provided an excuse for high officials and prominent businessmen to carry weapons;
  2. Private security guards employed by prominent businessmen; and
  3. The bulk of the CHDF, part- time soldiers paid a monthly salary of two hundred pesos with an annual clothing allowance of two hundred pesos and a nine- thousand- peso insurance policy.

The ICHDF had 63,000 full time and 10,000 part time members. The monthly pay was one factor why many wanted to be militia. Most members were farmers and low income earners in the rural areas. The authority to possess firearms was the main reason for joining the militia.

According to Richard Kessler [Rebellion and Repression in the Philippines, (New Haven, Conn : Yale University Press, 1989] there were other categories of armed civilians under the ICHDF program: special paramilitary forces consisting of former rebels and other individuals under the control of politicians, local security guards, provincial guards, civilian firearms holders and civilian volunteers (Kawal ng Barangay).

The police and the army controlled CHDF for counterinsurgency operations. A CHDFs mission was village defense, protecting a local barangay.102 Lateral coordination among military and police commanders and local officials in these areas were the basis of deployment and utilization of militias. The governors and mayors had strong influence over the utilization of militias.

The militia detachments were a good source of weapons and ammunitions for the insurgency. The CHDF members were ill trained, unequipped and incapable of performing the function of village defense. Some militia units until today are a good source of NPA weapons and ammunition. Frequently, CHDF forces threw their arms and fled when challenged by the NPA.

Militia detachments had weak defenses against NPA attacks as well as being weak in command and control. Poor cadre leadership was one factor. Many claimed the CHDF became private armies of some local officials engaged in illegal and violent activities.

"The CHDF was a total disaster. They were untrained, undisciplined, and unpaid- but armed- which was a sure- fire formula for corruption and abuse of their helpless victims. They were the primary source of all stories of abduction, salvaging, and torture that gave the military its bad name.... "They were notorious for stealing rice and chicken, for forcing peasants to bring them food and beers, dig their holes, and supply them with women. At checkpoints on highways or rural roads slightly drunk personnel would extort money, pull off kidnappings and torture- or even execute- suspected informers for the NPA." [Claude A. Buss, Cory Aquino and the People of the Philippines, (California: The Portable Stanford, 1987), p. 124-125.]

It was not surprising that the people sided with the insurgents for their own protection from abusive militias. Many people questioned the ability of the government to protect them from lawlessness and abuse of militias. Many could not distinguish the regular soldiers from militia because abuses were prevalent even in areas not influenced by insurgents.

The CHDF was implicated in numerous human rights abuses during the Marcos period. One of the most ntorious case involved the brutal murder by a CHDF group of an Italian missionary, Father Tullio Favali, in April 1985 in Mindanao. In 1987, eight CHDF members were convicted for the murder of Father Favali and sentenced to life imprisonment. Another 10 CHDF militiamen under the supervision of the PC were responsible for the killing of twenty sugar workers and the wounding of twenty-four more during a demonstration at Escalante, Northern Negros province in September 1985.

The dismantling of the CHDF became an important rallying cry of the opposition to President Marcos. The constitutional commission assembled by President Aquino added a clause in the new constitution that specifically provided for the dissolution of the CHDF.

During the period that President Aquino retained legislative powers prior to the first session of the new Congress, she promulgated legislation to give effect to the constitutional proviso. Executive Order No. 275, promulgated in 1987, ordered that "all paramilitary units, including the CHDF, shall be dissolved within one hundred eighty days from the effectivity [sic] of this Executive Order."' The executive order called for the Secretary of National Defense to supervise the dissolution of all paramilitary units and the orderly turn-over of all government properties (such as weapons) in the possession of these units.

The military high command's initial response was to assist at least in the reduction, if not the dismantling, of the CHDF, which had grown to some 73,000 members. Executive Order 275 set the gradual and orderly dissolution of all paramilitary units and the conversion of its budgetary appropriations into the Citizen Armed Force Program.

As the intensity of the war with the NPA returned to Marcos-era levels, efforts to dismantle the CHDF slowed significantly. Many of the dismissed CHDF members kept their weapons and joined the newly-formed vigilante groups that were being organized throughout the country. In Davao City, newly-inducted CHDF members were trained in weapons use and counter-insurgency tactics to be deployed as the armed component of the Alsa Masa vigilante group. By October 1988, nine months after the deadline for their dissolution set by Executive Order No. 275, there were still an estimated 40,000 active CHDF members in the country.

The government began replacing the CHDF with a new militia to assist the armed forces - the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit, known as the CAFGU. This program was fully underway by late 1988. The CAFGU was designed to replace the CHDF, in lieu of a more costly expansion of the regular army. Explicitly recognizing the abusiveness of the CHDF, the government's CAFGU program was created to develop a militia that would adhere to human rights standards.



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