Alsa Masa (Philippines)

Country: Philippines
Details of Formation: Alsa Masa, which means “masses arise”, was first tried to be established as a vigilante group in 1984, but the attempt failed. Alsa Masa was then established in April 1986 by a former Communist rebel. Police chief Calida supported the small group with arms and within a short time period, he transformed Alsa Masa into a mass phenomenon to fight Communist insurgents.
Details of Termination: While paramilitary groups were officially disbanded by Executive Order 175 of 1987, the Alsa Masa was not affected by this order. There is no mention of the group after its period of activity 1986-1990. A 2008 report claims that the group does not exist anymore (date and reason unclear).
Purpose: The main purpose of Alsa Masa was to fight the NPA insurgents. When the NPA was driven out of Davao City, the government attributed this success to Alsa Masa (Human Rights Watch 2009). The government appreciated the fact that Alsa Masa could engage in the dirty work of counterinsurgency while the military was considered ineffective. The military used Alsa Masa to avoid human rights investigations.
Organisation: Alsa Masa was endorsed by President Corazon Aquino and under patronage of the local military commander Lt. Col. Franco Calida (Human Rights Watch 2009). A news source reports endorsement by General Fidel Ramos, the armed forces Chief of Staff and Local Government Secretary Jaime Ferrer. Alsa Masa received financial support from the Aquino government-appointed city council. Alsa Masa groups were described as armed, but not controlled, by the military.
Weapons and Training: According to news sources, Alsa Masa received weapons from the local military commander. Youth standing at road checkpoints of Alsa Masa were reportedly seen with M16s.
Size: Initially the group had less than ten members. When the local police chief Calida started to support the group, membership grew drastically. By February 1987, there were around 5,000-6,000 members in Davao only. By November that year the group was said to have 800,000 members. Later estimates put maximum membership as high as one million. A January 1988 newspaper article says that in Davao there were 300,000 listed Alsa Masa members. Alsa Masa’s group increase was accompanied by the prohibition and banning of other paramilitary groups. One news source from May 1988 gives significantly smaller numbers, mentioning a total of some 2,900 members.
Reason for Membership: The group was founded by civilians that wanted to counter NPA violence and extortion. Alsa Masa used coercive recruiting methods and threatened those who did not comply their call to send one person per household for night patrols (Human Rights Watch 2009). News sources mentions that while most members are not paid some did receive payment.
Treatment of Civilians: There are no direct reports on how Alsa Masa treated civilians. One report says that they wreaked bloody havoc on communities with the president’s blessing (Human Rights Watch 2010), but there are no further details whether civilians were targeted.
Other Information: Alsa Masa is the largest and most famous group that existed to fight Communist insurgents. However, many smaller vigilante groups evolved as well (evidence claims 225 of such groups); many of them were inspired by the Alsa Masa success. Their purpose is the same. Upon foundation, Alsa Masa attracted support by the urban poor and middle class in Davao who were tired of NPA violence. According to a news source some political warlords renamed their groups Alsa Masa so that their private army had a more respectable title.
References: Human Rights Watch. 2010. “Philippines: Repeating a Quarter-Century-Old Mistake.”

Human Rights Watch. 2009. “You Can Die Any Time. Death Squad Killings in Mindanao.” ISBN: 1-56432-448-6

Information was taken from news sources listed in the PGMD