Need to rethink EO 70, ‘National Peace Framework’

The bungled witch hunt by intelligence units of the Philippine National Police (PNP) against the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) only reflects – in their implementation – the brutish style with which the government’s counterinsurgency policies and directives are issued by the highest level of command. ACT is the sole accredited teachers’ union in the country.

Note why PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde sacked three police intelligence officers: not for carrying out the illegal profiling of ACT members but for the crude way this was being done. He groaned, “Maybe they don’t know what the job of an intelligence officer is. No. 1… there shouldn’t be a leak [of the operation]… especially so if you would be creating unnecessary panic.”

One of the “leaked” documents is a memorandum to “All COPs (Attn: Intel Section),” issued by the Zambales Police Provincial Office Intelligence Branch officer-in-charge on Dec. 27, 2018. It orders the “inventory of all public and private school teachers who are members of the (ACT).” It cites three references: the mid-term elections in May, and two memos from higher PNP offices – “TDI dated Dec. 10, 2018” and “RID PRO3 dated Dec. 27, 2018,” both on the same subject matter.

Acting on such memos, replicated by other PNP intel units, police officers have visited public elementary and high schools in Metro Manila, Baguio City and besides Zambales, schools in other provinces including Bulacan, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, and Agusan del Sur.

The police actions have raised vehement protests (among others) from ACT, the human rights coalition Karapatan, and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL). The Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives has urged a congressional investigation of the “PNP spying.” And the Philippine Daily Inquirer editorially blasted the actions as “part of the escalating campaign of vitriol, demonization and harassment being directed at a broad swath of activists, dissenters and opposition leaders.”

The government’s own agencies, including the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) itself, were alarmed. “Given the climate of harassment and threats against progressive and vocal groups,” said CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia, “this (profiling) move already raises doubts and fears, considering that the PNP has not been transparent in doing the profiling and they gave no solid justification or legitimate aim for such operation.” She added: “There is a risk that the list (of ACT members) can be utilized to repress legitimate concerns or to silence criticisms or opponents.”

Meantime, the Department of Education (DepED) has recalled an endorsement of the Manila Police memo by a division school superintendent. Education Secretary Leonor Briones said: “Legally, we are not bound to give personal information as a public institution. Personal information is covered by the Data Protection Act [RA 10173]. Requests will have to be evaluated by our central office, and we are going to reiterate that to our officials down the line… With the Data Privacy Act, you have to be much more sensitive in giving away information that may cause damage.”

Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro, chief implementor of RA 10173, gave the same warning. While the law recognizes the importance of public order and safety, and that processing of personal information is important for law enforcement purposes, he said, “This, however, is not without limits.” Personal data collection, especially those of sensitive nature such as political affiliation, requires the person’s consent, he emphasized, and should “always be consistent with full respect for human rights and the Constitution.”

Now, PNP chief Albayalde has admitted that the police efforts to identify ACT members are part of the government campaign “to end the communist insurgency” by the end of Duterte’s term in 2022. This campaign is laid down in Executive Order No. 70, which Duterte signed on Dec. 4, 2018.

“We are not saying ACT is an enemy of the state,” Albayalde confusingly explained. “We are pinpointing here individuals, not the organization, that’s why we are [gathering intelligence].” Fact is: the state security forces – and President Duterte – have tagged ACT as a “front” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), along with Bayan Muna and the other progressive partylist organizations grouped under the Makabayan Coalition.

In this light, the Zambales Police memo’s reference to the May mid-term elections assumes dire implications. For one, Malacanang’s communications operations office head, Martin Andanar, has vowed to prevent the Makabayan partylist groups from winning anew in the May elections. How?

But there’s a more ominous peril to ACT, to the other Makabayan partylist groups, and to all progressive and militant people’s organizations tagged as “fronts” of the CPP. Their members may already have been targeted for profiling by the PNP and other state intelligence groups.

The bigger peril, however, would arise should the security forces mindlessly carry out – as their commander-in-chief’s order – what Duterte told soldiers in a military camp recently. Ranting against the CPP and what he called its “legal infrastructure” or “fronts,” he blurted: “Kill them… Destroy them!”

It’s important to point out that, to end the “communist armed conflict,” EO No. 70 calls for the creation of a National Task Force with 20 members mostly Cabinet heads, to oversee the campaign. It’s chaired by President Duterte himself with his national security adviser as vice chair.

The EO also calls for “institutionalizing the ‘whole-of-nation’ approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace,” and directs the adoption of a “National Peace Framework.” It sets a six-month period, from the issuance of the EO, for the Task Force to “formulate and start to implement, in coordination with relevant government agencies, LGUs, civil society and other stakeholders a whole-of-nation-approach-driven National Peace Framework.”

Duterte had allowed himself to be convinced by the financially overindulged military to announce last year that the armed conflict would be ended in 2019. However, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is now singing a different tune. He said: “[The insurgency] has been going on for the last 50 years and we cannot end it in one year. But if our target would be the remaining three years of President Duterte’s presidency, we can probably do it [emphasis mine].”

Since the PNP’s witch hunt against ACT exemplifies an aspect of how EO No. 70 can and will backfire in its implementation, shouldn’t President Duterte pause and – more resolutely than he has done many times before – rethink his executive order? Shouldn’t he take into account Lorenzana’s apparent reservation over the certainty of attaining its objective?

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Published in Philippine Star
Jan. 12, 2019


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