Pushback slows down red-tagging spree

It seems that time is up for reckoning on the crude, arrogant and irresponsible red-tagging campaign, waged mainly by the military and police at the behest of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Confict or NTF-ELCAC. Created and nominally headed by President Duterte, the task force is overseen by his national security adviser, retired Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

For instance, the recent threatening statements directed at progressive legislators and women celebrities by Army Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., one of the NTF-ELCAC spokespersons, have provoked a widespread public outcry and protestations. The sharp negative reaction caused Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to publicly rebuke him: Don’t just make accusations, produce evidence, otherwise keep quiet. The President’s spokesperson chimed in, saying Lorenzana spoke up on Duterte’s instruction.

The red-tagging cum terrorist-linking campaign had been intensifying since July, after Duterte signed into law the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA). The President had certified the bill as urgent legislation amid the prolonged lockdowns and quarantines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which have driven the economy into recession and jacked up the country’s foreign and domestic debts.

Meantime, 37 petitions against the ATA have been filed before the Supreme Court. All invariably urge the tribunal to declare the new law unconstitutional, wholly or in part, and to urgently issue either a status quo ante or temporary restraining order, to deter its implementation pending resolution of the issues raised.

After the Anti-Terrorism Council approved and published the law’s implementing rules and regulations, the petitioners now implore the SC to hasten actions on their petitions and urgent pleas. They warn that certain provisions of the IRR aggravate the perils to people’s rights and liberties posed by the new law’s questioned provisions. The SC is set to meet en banc this coming week.

With the ATA in effect, Parlade has bragged that it won’t take long for Neri Javier Colmenares, Bayan Muna chairman and former congressman, and the six party-list legislators belonging to the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives to be designated as “terrorists” by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) and proscribed, along with their organizations, by the Court of Appeals. He had been repeatedly claiming that they are “card-carrying” members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Befuddled, he wrongly interchanged the legal weight and sequencing of the two processes: arbitrary “designation” by the ATC (an executive body created by the law) and “proscription” by the CA, after due process and hearing shall have been afforded the accused parties.

Adding strong rebukes to Parlade are newly-elected House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and new minority leader Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano. They have issued separate statements defending the members of the Makabayan bloc.

Velasco said the brash general “should be more circumspect and cautious in issuing statements against House members whose lives he may place at great risk and danger sans strong evidence.” The lawmakers he has been red-tagging, he said, are “duly-elected representatives of the people, and implicating them on issues that have yet to be substantiated is uncalled for.” For his part, Paduano said Parlade had “better file a case in court or shut up if he has no evidence to show.” He observed that the NTF-ELCAC spokesperson “sounds like a loose cannon and his words can do more harm than good to the government’s anti-insurgency efforts.”

Local executives firmly stood against the NTF-ELCAC’s attempts to spread the campaign against progressive people’s organizations within their jurisdiction. Manila Mayor Isko Moreno ordered the offending tarpaulin posters and billboards to be taken down and banned, so did Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla.

As regards his accusations against the Makabayan bloc, Parlade said, “Right now we can file cases,” then backtracked to admit: “But we need to make sure our actions are solid.” Now he really found reasons to be cautious. In the past two months, the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice have junked two of the NTF-ELCAC-backed cases filed against youth activists and their supporters. These had to do with allegedly kidnapping minors and recruiting them into the New People’s Army.

In September the SC found no valid ground for issuing either a writ of amparo or habeas corpus as sought by the petitioning parent; it even reproached the lawyer who filed the petition for misusing legal remedies. This week the DOJ prosecutors dismissed a complaint of kidnapping and violation of international humanitarian law against leaders of Anakbayan, Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago, Neri Colmenares and Jose Ma. Sison. Basis for dismissal: no evidence.

The Public Interest Law Center, counsel for the accused in both cases, said the NTF-ELCAC and Parlade (as its “talking head”) must be held accountable for the “ruined reputations, traumatized families, orphaned children, the ‘disappeared’ and the dead.” As the administration of the law “grinds in its true place and sync with justice,” the PILC added, “the NTF-ELCAC better be ready for our counter-offensive.”

Also this week, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, principal author of the ATA, announced a Senate public hearing, starting on Nov. 3, on the issue of red-tagging. He heads the upper chamber’s committee on national defense and security, peace, unification and reconciliation.

Lacson said he had gotten the go-signal from Senate President Vicente Sotto III after filing a resolution directing his committee to exercise its oversight authority over the defense sector in this particular matter. The objective, he explained, is to craft proper guidelines that will “prevent misunderstanding between the public and the military and ensuring the protection of the constitutional rights of the people…”

A former chief of the Philippine National Police, Lacson has chided Parlade for his tendency to “over-analyze” and “over-talk” which, he said, threatens to undermine the NTF-ELCAC’s avowed mission to end the communist-led insurgency.

For instance, he reminded Parlade (who had told Neri Colmenares that he was under surveillance) that the purpose of surveillance is defeated when the subject becomes aware that he’s being tailed. “Maybe a little prudence and self-discipline will help,” he added.

One cannot escape the irony of Lacson’s counseling prudence and self-discipline. For more irony, here’s what former AFP chief now DILG secretary Eduardo Año and NTF-ELCAC member recently said on television: “Gen. Parlade is one of the best officers of the (AFP). I will just caution him to go into factual details so that [whatever he says] would stand… he is a very effective communicator.”

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published by Philippine Star
October 31, 2020

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