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Aquino Backs Off from Order To Disband Armed Groups

March 17, 1987

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ President Corazon Aquino today backed off from her order to immediately disband the Civilian Home Defense Force militia and private armies, and instead asked the military to draft a plan to dismantle them.

Government television quoted Mrs. Aquino’s military adviser, retired Brig. Gen. Jose Magno, as saying the revised order ″involves preparations to slowly dismantle the CHDF in two or three years.″

The presidential press office said Monday that Mrs. Aquino had directed Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto and Jaime Ferrer, local governments secretary, to ″take immediate steps″ to disband the 40,000-strong Home Defense Force as well as all private armed groups, including anti-Communist vigilantes.

But palace sources said Magno today sent the memorandum back to the office of Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo for revisions before forwarding it to Ileto’s and Ferrer’s departments.

The revised order directs the two departments to submit by April 30 a draft of an executive order carrying out provisions of the newly ratified constitution, which bans paramilitary organizations such as the Home Defense Force, Alsa Masa (Masses Arise) and NAKASAKA (United Association for Peace).

No reason was given for the change in orders.

Military sources say Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, the chief of staff, urged Mrs. Aquino not to dismantle the Home Defense Force as long as the Communist insurgency continues. The Home Defense Force is organized and armed by the government and supervised by the military.

Alsa Masa and NAKASAKA, both private vigilante groups, battle Communist rebels on Mindanao island.

Leftist groups, including the Communist-dominated National Democratic Front, have accused the Home Defense Force of widespread human rights abuses, but the military claims it is effective against Communist rebels.

The military estimates that more than 260 private armies operate in the country, including Moslem and Communist rebels, warlord forces, vigilantes and religious fanatics.

A leader of Alsa Masa vowed to resist efforts to disband his group and threatened to ″make trouble″ for the government if it tried.

Some Alsa Masa members have received weapons from the military, and leftists also have accused them of human rights abuses.

Thirty-six prominent leftists today appealed to Mrs. Aquino to strictly enforce the constitutional ban against Alsa Masa and NAKASAKA.

″We see nothing to justify the indiscriminate arming of civilians, many of whom have questionable characters, all in the pretext of fighting the rebels,″ they said in a letter published in the left-leaning newspaper Malaya.

In Davao City, 610 miles southeast of Manila, police commander Lt. Col. Franco Calida claimed Alsa Masa was not an armed group although some members ″might be hiding firearms.″

Calida has distributed weapons to some vigilantes but said today that they were members of the Home Defense Force.

″When it comes to recommending licenses (for weapons), we don’t even check if you are Alsa Masa because this is not a formal organization,″ Calida said. ″They don’t have a constitution.″

Reporters have seen armed vigilantes on security patrols with regular troops and manning checkpoints in Davao City behind makeshift signs identifying them as Alsa Masa members.

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