Advocacy group Pilgrims for Peace declared that the state’s penchant for red and terror-tagging “not only further exacerbates the human rights crisis in the Philippines, but it worrisomely undermines peace efforts.”
By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA ROSA, Laguna – Peace advocates from different sectors stressed the need to continue negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines while condemning the Duterte government’s vilification of advocates and organizations.
“Red-tagging, red-baiting, or anti-communist witch hunting; it doesn’t matter what you call it,” said NDFP Peace Consultant Rafael Baylosis.
“These aim to create conditions to suppress the legal democratic mass movement in the cities and demonize the CPP-NPA-NDFP [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines] as terrorists, and to push their aims of further exploiting the Filipino people.”
In a statement, advocacy group Pilgrims for Peace declared that the state’s penchant for red and terror-tagging “not only further exacerbates the human rights crisis in the Philippines, but it worrisomely undermines peace efforts.”
Terror-tagging “directly hurts peace efforts”
Pilgrims for Peace stressed that red-tagging peace advocates and “even celebrities”, as well as accusations that the New People’s Army was a “terrorist group” did nothing to advance calls for peace.
“What is the problem [with red-tagging]? It closes doors,” said Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers. “It alienates people from participating. What kind of lawyer, or doctor, or economist would want to work with ‘terrorists’ as a consultant?”
In his capacity as legal consultant for the NDFP Negotiating Panel, Olalia has been the frequent target of red-tagging and accusations of being a member of the revolutionary Communist Party of the Philippines.
Rev. Christopher Ablon, national program coordinator for the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and known for acting as mediator in talks between the New People’s Army and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Mindanao, shared the same sentiments.
“As it stands, with the peace process dead, and the NPA tagged as terrorists, there’s no room for talk on both sides,” he said. “There’s only violence without the hope of peace, or of saving lives on humanitarian grounds.”
Ablon pointed out that the Duterte government’s moves against peace negotiations not only “worsened the situation on the ground,” but its tactic of tagging advocates as communists also “sows fear and endangers peace workers.”
“It’s a shame that after [the Duterte government] killed the peace talks, they’re cementing the burial with red-tagging,” he said. The IFI recently commemorated the death of seven martyrs – six of whom were victims of extra-judicial killings after a period of red-tagging.
Terror-tagging counter to aims of peace process
Peace negotiations rely on mutual respect from both parties, something not apparent when the Armed Forces of the Philippines insists on using the term “communist terrorists.”
“It really doesn’t help the peace process,” Baylosis remarked. “If anything, the military derails and spoils the peace negotiations.”
Pilgrims for Peace also condemned in its statement the “labeling of the New People’s Army and Communist Party of the Philippines as ‘terrorist’” as “simultaneously false and folly.”
“The NPA-CPP-NDFP names themselves as a revolutionary and belligerent force engaged in civil war. As such, they have committed to uphold the Geneva Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international protocols of International Humanitarian Law,” the statement read. They also said that such labelling is “folly” because it only serves to “weaken the atmosphere for peacebuilding, undermining democratic space and efforts toward reforms that can help address the roots of the armed conflict in the country.”
Ablon and Baylosis emphasized the need to continue peace negotiations.
“The continuance of peace talks lowers the violence on the ground,” Ablon said, “and facilitates goodwill gestures like the release of prisoners of war.”
“But more importantly, it allows us to rethink how we should move forward as a society,” he added.
Baylosis also noted that the latest round of peace negotiations, which were indefinitely stalled in 2017, “could have been a huge opportunity for an interim peace agreement.”
He said that at the time, there were already “common drafts from the GRP and NDFP working committees for agrarian reform and national industrialization,” and were ready to be discussed on the level of the negotiating panel to “close out and form an agreement on socio-economic reforms.”
There were also talks for “coordinated unilateral ceasefires” in preparation for the next agenda on the peace negotiations, and negotiations to release all political prisoners “via a general amnesty proclamation.”
“But Duterte killed hopes for peace negotiations in 2018, and since then his regime made it difficult to talk peace,” Baylosis said.
The Duterte government made overtures to re-open peace negotiations in 2018, but formally closed them before the end of the year. In December, Duterte signed Executive Order 70, which created the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict, intensified military operations against the NPA, and instituted a “whole-of-nation” approach in dealing with the CPP’s almost-52 year armed revolution.
Since then, three NDFP consultants, Randy Malayao, Julius Giron, and most recently Randy Echanis, have been slain, while seven consultants – Rey Casambre, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad, Ferdinand Castillo, Frank Fernandez, Renante Gamara, and Esterlita Suaybaguio, are in jail on trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Baylosis himself was charged with the same case, but the charges were junked by courts for lack of evidence.
A ‘plot against international law’
Olalia stressed that red-tagging “contravenes all principles of international humanitarian law.”
“Red-tagging creates a chilling effect,” he said. “It closes legal avenues for productive discourse, and it allows the proliferation of false charges and extra-judicial kilings.”
Olalia also noted that the “terrorist” label runs counter to international law, stating that the “New People’s Army is part of a national liberation movement.”
Baylosis also stated that documents from the CPP-NPA-NDFP, such as founder Jose Maria Sison’s book Lipunan at Rebolusyong Pilipino, statements in its publication Ang Bayan, and joint statements from the GRP and NDFP over the course of the peace process reveal the “sincerity and positions of the CPP-NPA-NDFP.”
“They have long fought to advance righteous goals for the people – to achieve national liberation and democracy for the majority of our fellow Filipinos,” he said.
Pilgrims for Peace called on both parties to “remove obstacles to the building of a just and lasting peace and focus on addressing the roots of the armed conflict through peace negotiations.”
“The Filipino people want nothing more than peace based on social justice, freedom and democracy,” they stated. Other advocates likewise remain hopeful that peace negotiations can continue despite Duterte’s insistence.
“The biggest challenge now is the present regime itself,” Baylosis remarked. “It has less than two years left, but it’s entirely possible that peace talks will resume sooner. It all depends on the strength and solidarity of the people to call for the resumption of peace talks.”