The "Rambo Mystique": Philippine Para-Military and Society

  • Justus M. Van der Kroef (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Confronted by a persistent Communist guerilla movement (NPA - New People’s Army), the Philippine government of President Corazon Aquino, since assuming office in February 1986, has attempted to channel existing civilian and para-military organizations into a controlled counter-insurgency structure. It has three levels. At the top are the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGU), numbering about 44,000, and operating under direct supervision of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The CAFGU are designed to take the place of the Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF), organized in 1967 under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos. Poorly supervised, and frequently employed as private "armies" of wealthy businessmen, estate owners, and local political tycoons, the CHDF acquired an odious reputation because of its human rights abuses. Below CAFGU is the Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO), now numbering about 20,000 and not primarily used in armed combat with the NPA, serving instead as a supportive civilian watch and village improvement organization. Unlike CAFGU, its members are not regularly supervised by the AFP. Budget allocations are such that the organizational structure and degree of formal government control over CAFGU and CVO remains haphazard. This means that, as in the past, free wheeling vigilante organizations continue to be an important (and third level) element in the government’s counter-insurgency program. Philippine vigilantism has deep historic and social roots in the country’s feudal traditions. Modern "pop-culture" imagery, including that derived from motion pictures and rock music, also pervades many vigilante groups, as does an aura of romanticized, "macho" adventurism, identified here as "the Rambo mystique." There are about 200 vigilante groups with distinctive community, religious, or more traditional "private army" origins now operating in the Philippines. They are of continuous concern to government and private human rights organizations because of their frequent involvement in organized crime and extra-judicial violence.