'Mythic' order: Some groups who have not even actually seen it say the Order of Battle is akin to a death list, but the Armed Forces of the Philippines it merely helps them assess the enemies of the state. JES AZNARRightly or wrongly, the families, friends and colleagues of many activist victims of summary or extrajudicial killings (EJK) that clouded the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have sought to pin the blame on the military’s so-called Order of Battle.
In recent years, the term has attained some kind of near mythic reputation in the Philippines: Many media stories and people have referred to it and some even claim it is akin to a death list. Yet no civilian has actually seen it – or at least not anything the military admits to or acknowledges as being a legitimate Order of Battle.
A senior reporter covering the national defense beat for a major broadsheet told Target EJK that the Order of Battle is never talked about by military officials. He said it was “top secret and confidential” and admitted never having seen a copy himself.
Some in the army maintain it is not even a single document and that those who claim to have seen it and liken it to a hit-list are being duped by the army’s political opponents who seek to use the issue to attack the professionalism of the military and undermine its support. Others counter by saying they have been leaked just such a document by sympathizers in the army and that it does indeed name and list individuals.
So who is telling the truth? Who and what is right?
The term Order of Battle is in fact a standard military terminology that refers to the organizational strength, structure and deployment of an army. It has been in use for hundreds of years and originates from medieval times in Europe.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta, in an interview with Target EJK said that in this country, the Order of Battle is a military document that contains an assessment of the “enemies of the state based on information gathered by intelligence personnel.”
Senator Gregorio Honasan, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy and former chief of security at the Department of National Defense, told Target EJK that the Order of Battle is a good tool in helping the AFP identify and deal with the “enemies of the state”.
However, he adds that it is only as good as the quality of the information behind it.
“It's a good tool but it is information-driven,” he said. “It may be true but if not, there is no real defense against an irresponsible intelligence report.”
Honasan claims that he was himself imprisoned because of an irresponsible intelligence report. He was jailed briefly in 2006 after nine months of being on the run following his perceived involvement in a failed coup plot against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Honasan, a charismatic military man, served as the aide-de-camp to the then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile in the 1970s. In 1986, he and Enrile led military officers against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a move that helped spark the historic people power revolt that topped the dictator and installed opposition leader Corazon Aquino.
Based on his experience, Honasan said that an Order of Battle could hamper civil liberties. “It can work to the detriment of civil liberties at the extreme,” Honasan said. Given that, he said, when the AFP comes up with an Order, it must be “accurate”.
Policy interest and safeguards
Honasan said that to address the problem, Congress should strictly implement its oversight functions: While an Order of Battle should be confidential, it cannot be kept from Congress.
“They can keep it from everybody except Congress because we have an oversight mechanism,” he said. He conceded that while the security of the state is important, it should not be at the expense of civil liberties and human life.
"This is the reason why we should activate the intelligence [check] mechanism system. There is a congressional oversight committee and we're going to activate this because precisely for this potential for abuse," Honasan explained.
Honasan admitted that sometimes the information obtained is not accurate because it is fed by individuals or parties with vested interests or may be politically-motivated. The military, he said can also be very abusive because intelligence funds are confidential and do not go through full auditing procedures. This is something that the Senator and others now want to look into given the recent furor over possible misuse of AFP funds.
For his part, Budget secretary Florencio Abad said that as a policy response to the problem of corruption in the military, his department would be putting in place reforms in handling the budget for national defense.
Away from financial concerns, Brig. Gen. Mabanta maintained human rights adherence within the AFP had been problematic in the past but that things will steadily be improving under the Aquino administration.
“The main plan is to change the term from ‘defeating the enemy’ to ‘winning the peace,” he told Target EJK. “That means that when you win the peace it needs everyone’s involvement.”
He added that the AFP is now drafting a new “campaign” plan and in the process in crafting the plan would include representatives from different sectors such as human rights groups and civil society sectors. “Its implementation will be in July 2011.”
Mabanta added that there is also a very strong emphasis on “human rights,” and admitted this had been the military’s “dark spot” from the time of the Marcos years.
He nonetheless believes there are also non-state actors responsible for the military’s image as human rights violator.
This, he said, is part of the “black propaganda” of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. Still, Mabanta said this is not an excuse for the military not to change its ways. “We are not stopping at that. We would like to show everyone that we mean business. We are serious in our advocacy to human rights and to international humanitarian laws,” he said.
On the list?
Carlos Conde, former secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and a freelance reporter who writes mainly for The New York Times and International Herald Tribune, found himself on an alleged Order of Battle list of the military in 2009.
Conde’s name was found alongside activists and some lawyers in a document titled “JCICC ‘AGILA’ 3rd QTR 2007 OB VALIDATION RESULT” that was purportedly prepared by the intelligence staff of the Armed Forces’ 10th Infantry Division in Southern Mindanao.
The military has steadily denied it was their document and has called it an elaborate hoax.
Around 2007, Conde was very visible in rallies and forums against the killings of journalists. He was also seen in protest actions against extrajudicial killings in Davao City and elsewhere in Mindanao.
Conde who has also written for Target EJK admitted that he became a bit paranoid and remains so even to this day.
“I had to watch my back, quite literally. I would often make sure that I was not being followed. I became a bit paranoid, even at times to this day. I'm wary about men on motorcycles,” Conde said in a recent interview with Target EJK.
As a precautionary measure Conde said he and his editors in the United States wrote to the Philippine Army, whose officials replied to say that there was nothing to worry about.
However, he points out that at least one other individual mentioned in the list of 110 “has been assassinated and several others have either been attacked or subjected to harassment and intimidation by agents of the armed forces.”
Celso Pojas was a peasant leader in Davao City when he was shot dead by suspected military agents in May 2008.
“I understand that it is an internal document within the AFP, used to assess threat or enemy levels. I find it reprehensible only because many personalities listed in Orders of Battle have ended up dead or assassinated,” Conde said.
The new internal peace and security plan
The new internal peace and security plan just recently released by the AFP provides the framework for the AFP’s new approach to peace and security.
“This is a shift from a predominantly militaristic solution to a people-centered security strategy that is founded on broad-based consultations,” it says.
It also said that instead of only diminishing the armed capability of threat groups, the AFP chooses to also focus on the long-term and more important effects of its military operations on the people and communities, their way of life and well being.
“In other words, peace is to be won for the people. In this context, military operations shall be conducted within the larger framework of the government’s peace strategy.”
This means that, according to the plan, military operations are tools to achieve peace and security.
Under the Aquino administration, the AFP said military operations shall not be limited to purely combat operations and that it shall use non-combat operations such as civil-military operations (CMO) and development-oriented activities.
The plan also stated that all operations and activities of the AFP from the General Headquarters down to the lowest squad or team "shall strictly adhere to the principles, concepts, provisions and spirit of human rights and international humanitarian laws.
“The AFP Chain of Command is responsible in ensuring that these principles are not only followed but internalized by all military,” it says.
Will the killings stop?
There has been reportedly a reduction in killings with the change in presidency and security emphasis focusing less on delivering numerical targets. And yet Conde does not believe that the new administration will be able to get rid of the Order of Battle.
“What I would want to happen is a change in the way the military views government critics, not to immediately lump them with groups that seek to overthrow the government. If the military's instinct is to treat every critic as an enemy of the state, then the Order of Battle will always be there and will always be abused. And the killings will never stop,” Conde said.
The AFP responds by saying that this is indeed changing, but that changes take time to filter through.
Robert De Castro, campaign advocacy officer of human rights alliance Karapatan says that human rights violations and extrajudicial killings continue to happen because of the continued use and abuse by the military of the Order of Battle.
“It’s not a figment of the imagination of the human rights community. It’s happening. It’s a real thing,” he said.
Human rights lawyer Romel Bagares said that the use of an Order of Battle is always “reprehensible and pernicious.”
“The use of an Order of Battle, as it is practiced in the Philippines by both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police – and especially in the context of the continuing culture of impunity in the country –is reprehensible and pernicious from the point of view of human rights,” he said.
“In both human rights and international humanitarian law, this is a violation of the right to life. In armed conflicts, civilians are protected, unless they take up arms themselves. But it appears that the military does not make that distinction, on the claim that anyway, these civil society leaders really are using the ‘legal fronts’ as cover for their work on behalf of the communist movement. This is unacceptable. In a country that is supposedly under the rule of law, the practice should have no place,” Bagares said.
The Aquino administration, he said, should immediately direct all military officers to cease making public statements linking political or other civil society groups to those engaged in armed insurgencies.
Furthermore, Bagares said that any such characterizations belong solely within the power of the civilian authorities. They must be based on transparent criteria, and conform to the human rights provisions of the Constitution and relevant treaties. To correct the system, Bagares said transparency must be introduced as recommended by Philip Alston, former UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, who wrote in his final report following his 2007 investigative mission to the Philippines:
“Transparency must be introduced to the “orders of battle”, “watch lists”, and similar list of individuals and organizations maintained by the AFP, PNP, and other elements of the national security system. While their contents might justifiably be considered secret, which lists exist, their purposes, the criteria for inclusion, and the number of names on each should be made public.” Project Target EJK/ED
(The author is a reporter for the Philippine Star and a blogger, writing mostly human rights and development issues.)