PMC = Philippine Military Contractor

01/17/2011 04:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • David Isenberg Author, 'Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq'

I've noted before that the PMC sector is a global one. This is an often repeated and certainly not original assertion but it is not taken nearly seriously enough.

Partly the reason is that coverage of PMCs highlights their activities in war and conflict zones; Executive Outcomes in Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the Balkans in the 1990s; and in this decade Iraq and Afghanistan. But everyday a private military or security contractor is doing something somewhere, whether doing logistics work, guarding someone as part of a personal security detail, or training police or military forces. But that is not say relationship between PMC and governments is always the same.

Let's look at a region that we don't normally think of; Southeast Asia. This is the subject of a paper "Pirates' in the Sea: Private Military and Security Company Activities in Southeast Asia and the Philippines" by Katherine Marie G. Hernandez, published last October.

She notes that SE Asia is fertile ground for PMSC activity. Inequality makes it easier for political conflicts to spark and flare into protracted, brutal, and often, armed conflicts. Consequently, the overriding political climate characterizing the region has been one of armed conflict. Extremist groups in Southeast Asia are engaged in a violent conflict with their respective governments, such as `JI' or Jemaah Islamiyah, a group which, although operating in the Philippines, has influence that extends beyond Philippine shores to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Somewhat ironically, the conflicted nature of much of the region means that governments are frequently authoritarian. In turn, the militaries in the region play an important role in keeping domestic order and stability.

They have been used to suppress civil uprisings, oppress their own people in behalf of authoritarian governments, or even topple governments to gain power for themselves or with political allies. They are equipped with the best weapons and provided the best training. An organisation that is highly centralized and under the control of the state, they have monopolised the use of force in society. This explains why the activities of PMSCs are limited and they do not involve the participation of the governments. The central/national governments (and in the case of Thailand, the military itself) have not allowed any other entity outside the military, to have the `right' or capability to use force that can rival their own. The role of the armed forces of states in the region does not create enough space for PMSCs to find an opening to enter into the sphere of operations. PMSCs may have expanded their operations into the region, but they have not yet been contracted to perform activities that are reserved for the armed forces.

Yet, as globalization has rolled across the world it has transformed Asian economies and also has been linked to the development and dissemination of radical political and religious ideologies into and within the region. With the war against terror, threat of global financial crisis, increasing piracy attacks, and the general feeling of insecurity, the sense of threat, especially to foreign interests, have increased significantly, creating a demand for the services of PMSCs in the region, especially from multinational companies.

In the past, in Sri Lanka, the government hired PMC pilots to fly its gun ships, while in Indonesia, Executive Outcomes provided training and support for the Indonesian Special Forces in hostage rescue operations in 1996. The training was in preparation for the Indonesian Special Forces operations in West Papua (Irian Jaya). In Malaysia, TASK International trained the Royal Malaysian Police in close protection, hostage rescue, defensive driving and crisis management for the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Aside from providing training to the armed forces of states and their agencies, PMSCs operating in the region also provide logistical support, advisory services, and de-mining services for both public and private sector. In 1993, the Cambodian government used a French company, COFRAS, to provide de-mining services at the Angkor Wat complex. COFRAS cleared 1,337 mines and 4,938 items of unexploded ordinance from 24 structures, including temples, pagodas, and schools in the vicinity of Angkor Wat. Control Risks Group (CRG) provides security planning for mine sites in the Philippines, where mining companies face threats from local members of the New Peoples Army (NPA). In 2002, the US-based Sayeret Group worked with personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP). Other PMSCs working for the Philippine government are the British PMSC ArmorGroup International and the US PMSC DynCorp International
The Philippine company Grayworks Security also provides security to large corporations. It has employed a number of former members of Canada's military and police forces as advisers to deal with the various armed groups in Mindanao engaged not only in kidnapping, but drug trafficking as well. Grayworks is said to have also provided some training to the North Cotabato provincial police and was hired by a number of big companies, including DOLE.

There have been reports that Grayworks is engaged in combating elements of the guerrilla organizations of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Abu Sayyaf, and the New Peoples' Army, primarily on the island of Mindanao. For instance, `Pentagon' a gang formed by the MILF, has been involved in kidnap-for-ransom of foreigners and conducted attacks on the Dole Plantation in Polomolok, South Cotabato and even tried to abduct the Dole Regional Director. In 2000, Filipino troops and a Grayworks trainer went on a mission to Jolo Island (in Mindanao) in search of Abu Sayyaf after 21 foreign tourists were taken hostage. It is not clear whether it was the Philippine government that tapped Grayworks or the governmentsof those taken as hostages.

While in 2005, an ex-Canadian Army soldier, `William,' was reported to have led the team for Grayworks that were tapped by Mayor Efren Piñol, Sr., to train the mayor's private army with a force of 12-15 men. Its members include the Mayor's bodyguards and former Filipino soldiers. The private army was trained by Grayworks under `William' to address the attacks of members of a guerrilla movement, the New Peoples Army (NPA), in the town of Magpet, Northern Cotobato in Mindanao. Mayor Piñol's justifiation in tapping Grayworks is that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) could not be relied on to effectively address the NPA situation in his town. When asked for help, members of the AFP stationed in the area could not immediately respond given the chain of command
and they could not respond to NPA raids/attacks without prior signal from their senior officers.

Another impact that private military and security contractors has is in the area or recruiting. Many Filipinos are being recruited by foreign PMSCs to work abroad, prompting the Philippine government to ban the deployment of Filipino workers to Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Lebanon, and Jordan in December 2007. However, Filipinos continue to be recruited by PMSCs using sub-agents scouting for potential personnel and acting individually to avoid alerting Philippine authorities. They then use Dubai, Bangkok, or Hong Kong as `jumping points,' where they are flown as tourists and are then `recruited' there before taking an onward flight to Afghanistan.

Another innovative way of recruiting potential Filipino PMSC personnel is through events sponsored by local gun clubs, wherein a foreign expert from then Blackwater/Xe, will conduct pistol or rifle training. It is on those occasions that recruitment takes place.

This PMSC recruitment can have a negative impact on the Philippine military and security forces according to Hernandez.

In the Philippines, the members of the police and the armed forces are on the top of the list when it comes to PMSC recruitment. The resources available to the PNP and the AFP are limited, which translates into low salaries and poor equipment. These factors make members of the PNP and AFP susceptible to PMSC recruitment. A General of the AFP or a Director General of the PNP receives a monthly base pay of Php 37,500 (or around US$806.50), while a private in the AFP or a Police Officer 1 of the PNP gets Php 10,808 (or US$232.43). The lowest position in the AFP is a candidate soldier, with Php 8, 630 (or US$185.591) monthly base pay. Thus, it makes good economic sense for these men to accept offers from PMSCs and work in places, which they may only consider equally dangerous to places of assignment at home. Furthermore, the equipment and weapons they are given as PMSC personnel are often far more reliable and of a higher-grade than those they are issued with their own governments. For instance, Erynis International offers Filipinos a salary of US$3,000 a month to provide security on the perimeters of the Baghdad Green Zone.

An important implication of the recruitment of Filipino soldiers and policemen, particularly the former, is the decreasing number of soldiers in the armed forces. In a country where longstanding insurgencies remain one of the main problems, the dwindling of troops is a major problem for state stability and survival.