EDITORIAL – Vigilantes rise again
(The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2016 - 9:00am

When law enforcement is weak, some civilians take the law into their own hands. This appears to be happening in Central Mindanao, where members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have been murdering civilians. Catholic bishops have said Christians in the region are arming themselves against attacks by armed groups led by the BIFF, supposedly a splinter group of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

A group calling itself the Red God’s Soldiers released a photo of its members burning a flag of the terrorist Islamic State. IS is feared to be influencing certain members of the BIFF and other bandit groups in Mindanao. On Dec. 23 last year, the military deployed more troops after the BIFF killed 11 civilians, most of them farmers, in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

People have a right to defend themselves, especially when the government is found wanting. Such vigilante operations, however, are prone to abuse and can create more problems. Christian vigilante cults have been organized in Mindanao in the past decades, among them the Ilaga and Tad-tad. The cults, believed created and supported by government forces, battled Muslim rebels and were later accused of committing gross human rights atrocities against non-combatants including women and children. Such abuses only fuel insurgencies.

Anyone who carries a gun without the permission of authorities is bound to use the weapon for illegal purposes. Vigilante operations to protect communities can easily expand to involvement in organized crime and wanton disregard for life and property.

Authorities can try to monitor vigilante activities to prevent abuses, but the better response is to improve law enforcement. Citizens need to be reassured by the state that peace and order can be maintained without the need for communities to take up arms in self-defense.

BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS CENTRAL MINDANAO ILAGA AND TAD ISLAMIC STATE MAGUINDANAO MINDANAO MORO ISLAMIC LIBERATION FRONT NORTH COTABATO AND SULTAN KUDARAT ON DEC RED GOD VIGILANTE
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