Why the Citizen National Guard should be taken seriously

The Citizen National Guard launch presscon. Screengrab from ABS-CBN’ Bandila.

In the long stretch of the history of a persistent catastrophe befalling nations, often overlooked are seemingly innocuous events that actually constitute the pathways to disaster.

One such event was the debut of the Citizen National Guard (CNG) last week, 3 October 2017. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and PAO Chief Persida Acosta served as principal sponsors. To give the CNG the face of a citizen organization, a mix of retired military officers, businessmen, and Muslim personalities were presented during the launch.

This group would have been dismissed as a loony aggrupation offering unsolicited paramilitary support for President Rodrigo Duterte, except that the presence of Secretary Aguirre and Chief Acosta gave the aggrupation the color of legitimacy and the status of an accredited political organization.

Taken in the context of a President who is struggling for political life, the CNG attains the sinister design of a paramilitary force deliberately organized for the sole purpose of ensuring the political survival of Rodrigo Duterte. The other avowed purposes of defending the Republic and protecting the people are mentioned apparently to modulate the starkness of the primary objective.

In fact, defending Rodrigo Duterte, the CNG as a paramilitary organization interferes with the functions of institutions and forces constitutionally duty-bound to defend the republic and protect the people, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. It will likely interfere, contradict, or degrade the functioning of these constitutional bodies.

Constitutional threats

It is obvious the CNG has been designed as an organization that would subvert the Constitution if necessary. It aims to protect Rodrigo Duterte from all threats to his political survival as President, including those threats that are constitutional attempts to impeach him or force his resignation for culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and failure to do justice to all Filipinos.

These constitutional threats are (1) investigation by the Ombudsman of Duterte’s alleged hidden wealth, a charge which has attained prima facie standing in the public mind due to the documents submitted by the AMLC to the Ombudsman lending credence to the allegations by Sen. Antonio Trillanes as early as April 2016 of two billion pesos in Duterte’s bank accounts; (2) investigation by the CHR of the death of innocent, unarmed civilians without any implication with drug use, in the hands of the police as part of the One Time, Big Time inducements to the police to score bigger kills; (3) investigations of the Senate into upcoming issues that might arise, similar to the corruption at the Bureau of Customs and the possible involvement of Polong Duterte in the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu into the country.

What kind of defense can the CNG accord Rodrigo Duterte against these constitutional “threats,” except through intimidation and the threat and the actual use of illegal overriding military force?

The road to an extra-constitutional defense has been initiated by Duterte himself. He has inspired his Super-Majority in the Congress to “constructively” shut down the Commission on Human Rights, a constitutional body, by allocating only P1000 for its 2018 budget. While this decision has been withdrawn, the desire to disable CHR has not.

Due to the investigation into his alleged hidden wealth, Duterte has also threatened to investigate the OMB, in clear retaliation and refusal to come under OMB jurisdiction over the alleged hidden wealth of his family. Duterte has also repeatedly attacked Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno for calling him out on interference in the judiciary and the bloody war on drugs. Impeachment cases have been readied or initiated against OMB Carpio-Morales and CJ Sereno.

Five “enemies” of the State

The CNG debut event last Tuesday identified the primary five “enemies of the state” that are threatening assassination and coup d’etat attempts against the government: (1) ISIS-aligned terrorists; (2) CPP-NPA; (3) drug cartels; (4) seditious political opposition (Yellowtards); and (5) foreign intelligence agencies generating international support for regime change.

In fact, the manifesto of the CNG dated June 4, 2017 (See presents a long laundry list of enemies that cannot be neutralized using normal, constitutional processes.

The CNG lists its targets ((“denounce, destroy and eradicate forever”) as follows:

(1) Drug and Gambling Cartels: the illegal drug and gambling syndicates and cartels:

(2) Foreign-Aided Destabilizers: the local treacherous traitors, who are out to destabilize our country by conniving with the black states of any foreign intelligence agencies and their allies;

(3) Terrorists: any and all terror groups, purporting to belong to any religious sect or affilitation, being utilized by external and internal enemies of the state for regime change;

(4) Oligarchs: The oligarchical culture of greed, which have contributed in the rise of extreme poverty, and their close allies in the banking system, subservient to the machinations and manipulations of the Kazarian bankers, which have imposed a tight leash on our foreign exchange, to include the unrestrained flow of unlaundered money;

(5) The Corrupt: Those who have exchanged their loyalty for money, by way of graft and corrupt practices, whether in the civilian or uniformed services;

(6) Broken Justice System: The graft ridden justice system, which has mitigated and prevented the provision of justice to the people;

(7) Political Dynasties in the Legislature: The legislature, whose many members, have taken advantage of their positions, by growing into dynasties, who steal from the coffers of government and rob the taxes paid by the people;

(8) Former Executive Officials: Former presidents and leaders, who have failed the Filipino people, for having cheated and committed fraud, in their respective elections, and absconded the resources of the country;

(9) Anti-Filipino Treaties and Laws: the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the EPIRA Law (Electric Power Industry Reform Act), which have lowered our honor, our standards of living and prestige, as a people and as a republic.

Revolutionary character

The revolutionary character of the CNG is clear from its declared commitment to radically transform Filipino society, including its government system, through the use of force if necessary. They apparently have taken to heart President Duterte’s recent statement — why go for martial law when you can have a revolutionary government?

The manifesto clearly lacks the coherence of an ideological framework that can serve as a foundation for its strategy and organization. From both a political and military point of view, it demonstrates weakness and fuzziness in the minds of its initiators.

Moreover, while using the words patriotism and defense of the Republic and Filipino people, several of the reserve and retired military officers identified to give a face to the organization are discredited habitual joiners of previous extra-constitutional military exercises. They have a retarded appreciation of the critical role of the armed forces in times of deep political divisiveness and crises.

What level of seriousness should be accorded to this Citizen National Guard, which aims to be the Vanguard of Duterte’s Revolutionary Government?

While comical, this CNG should be taken very seriously.

The first reason is that it is the first openly organized extra-constitutional paramilitary organization that could subvert the 1987 Constitution, the first since the last 1989 bloodiest coup against the government of President Corazon Aquino.

Private army

While purportedly out to protect President Duterte against possible coups and assassination attempts — a counter-coup force — it is also by definition a potential coup force. Its lack of distinction between constitutional and unconstitutional threats to the President makes it a private army in the contemplation of the 1987 Constitution.

That it calls on active military personnel to join their forces is an incitement to a potential “extra-constitutional military exercise.” It induces the military and the police in active service to operate outside the chain of command, for private purposes.

It is clear that the CNG is designed to bear arms. Their pledge reads: “We, who have sworn to defend our country, as fighting men, once and forever more, pledge to continue to support and follow the lead of our President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, and will gladly offer, to our last breaths, our lives for our country and people, SO HELP US GOD.”

The CNG is designed to organize and deploy Soldiers of Duterte, not Soldiers of the Republic. The CNG’s subversive inclination is clear from its recruitment strategy: “We, now, call on all soldiers of the republic from the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the Bureau of Fire Protection, all Reservists, and all who are members of the militia, formal or informal, from all corners of the country, regardless of age, sex, and creed, to close ranks, and rally behind the flag of our country, and our duly elected leader and president, RODRIGO ROA DUTERTE!”

Reserve and retired military officers that are signatory of this manifesto are not simply exercising their freedom of expression. They deliberately misuse and sport their reserve and retired ranks in their declarations and subsequent actions.

A second reason we should take this CNG seriously is the open endorsement that Secretary Aguirre and PAO Chief Acosta has given this group. Such endorsement will encourage the organization of similar groups. In fact, Secretary Aguirre has stated that he is organizing his own group of lawyers.

A third reason is the administration’s insistent narrative that the “Yellowtards” and the “Reds” and other ideological formations, aided by foreign agencies that are “architects of regime change” are joining forces to plot against the Duterte administration. Despite the repeated assurances by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that no such destabilization plots exist, Sec. Aguirre and SG Jose Calida continue to push this narrative. It is easy to imagine that empirical proof of this plot will be manufactured in the coming weeks to provide a justification of the mobilization of pro-Duterte paramilitary forces.

A fourth reason is that in organizing and building strength, this CNG will privatize public resources. It will certainly create another layer of corruption. It will use government facilities like military training camps, supplies, materials, and human resources, in preparing and mobilizing to prepare to wreak havoc on the same citizenry that provides these resources.

The CNG should therefore be opposed by the citizenry as a sugar-coated grotesque threat to Philippine democracy. It should be immediately investigated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Department of Justice, the Philippine National Police, the Senate, and the Ombudsman.

Without a clear signal that this organization is extra-constitutional, this CNG escalates the fissures in Philippine society to the level of an impending civil war, for it will force similar counter-forces into being.

(The author, Dr. Segundo Joaquin E. Romero, Jr., is a Professorial Lecturer at the Development Studies Program of the Ateneo de Manila University.)