Civilian Volunteer Organisation (CVO) (Philippines)

Country: Philippines
Details of Formation: In 1986, existing vigilante groups were officially named Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) to give the appearance of state regulation and control. In 1987, the Aquino government issued guidelines regulating the activities of the CVOs. While initially the CVOs were planned to be unarmed, this condition was not adhered to (Human Rights Watch). A news source reports that the CVOs were set up by Capt. Reynaldo Rafal and his Philippine Constabulary troops set up CVOs. While President Aquino only reluctantly accepted the vigilantes, many of her top aides were in favour of taking this risk.
Details of Termination: News sources report that in 2009 parts of the CVO were involved in a massacre committed by the Ampatuan clan. In the aftermath this part of the CVO was disbanded and prosecuted by the government. Despite this incident, the CVO is still used by 2014.
Purpose: The main purpose of the CVOs was to support government forces in the fight against insurgents and to promote peace and order (Human Rights Watch). They were also used to gather intelligence on rebel movements and strangers in a community. In 1988, President Aquino said that the CVOs were used because the thinly deployed military needed civilian support. In 2010, President Benigno Aquino III said that the government had not enough money to rely only on the military so they relied on the CVOs as cheaper alternative.
Organisation: The CVO is formally under PNP command. The establishment of private militias of CVOs occurs in an agreement between the government, the governor and the military, and as a consequence almost all mayors’ political clans have their own CVOs (Human Rights Watch). A news source reports that the CVOs are under the supervision of either the local military or police.
Weapons and Training: CVOs received weapons from local patrons. In 2008, the Provincial Peace and Order Council of Western Mindanao decided to arm CVOs with 1,000 shotguns (Amnesty International 2008). The CVOs used machine guns and mortar (Amnesty International 2009). In 2006, President Arroyo issued Executive Order 546, which was interpreted as legal ground to arm CVOs; previously, they had only been authorized to carry a baton, although this restriction was generally not observed (Human Rights Watch). A news source from 2008 reports that most CVOs received firearms by the army and that their rifles were World War II vintage Garand and Carbine. They receive only little training.
Size: We found no estimates on the overall PGM size; estimates are limited to specific towns and regions. In 2008, a news source speaks of 500 CVO members in Mindanao. In 2009, there were some 1,000 CVO members near Indanan town. The Ampatuans allegedly controlled 3,000 to 4,000 CVOs (Amnesty International 2009).
Reason for Membership: A news source from 2008, reports that CVO member usually receives around P400 to P500 monthly allowance.
Treatment of Civilians: In Maguindanao, the CVOs have engaged in systematic attacks on civilians, arson and murder, often with the knowledge and involvement of provincial authorities and the military (Amnesty International 2009). The massacre committed by the Ampatuan militia in 2009 was carried out with involvement of the CVOs (Human Rights Watch 2010). A news source from 2003 reports that the CVO alongside the CAFGU and the army, attacked the Bangsamoro civilian population.
Other Information: The officially sanctioned CVO is also known as Bantay Bayan (“People’s Guard”) (Human Rights Watch) In the region of Governor Andal Ampatuan, CVOs were part of the Ampatuan militia (Amnesty International 2010).
References: Amnesty International. 2008. “Mindanao civilians under threat from MILF units and militias.”

Amnesty International. 2010. “Philippines: Justice still not served one year after massacre.”

Amnesty International. 2009. “Philippines must limit Martial Law and disband paramilitaries.”

Human Rights Watch. 2010. “’They Own the People’. The Ampatuans, State-Backed Militias, and Killings in the Southern Philippines.“ ISBN: 1-56432-710-8.

Information was taken from news sources listed in the PGMD