By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Human rights group Karapatan filed charges against the ranking officials of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for red-tagging the organization.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that these top officials should be held “criminally and administratively liable for the acts that malign, vilify and baselessly red-tag her along with Karapatan’s officers and members.”
Named respondents to the complaint filed with Office of the Ombusdman December 4 were National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperson Jr., NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr., NTF-ELCAC Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy and former Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Mocha Uson. The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) serves as Karapatan’s counsel in this case.
Palabay reiterated that red-tagging of activists and progressive groups has led to the killings of human rights defenders, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention, torture, criminalization of their jobs and advocacies, and other defilements of their civil and political rights.
In its complaint, Karapatan listed human rights defenders who were killed after being red-tagged by the state forces. This include human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos who is also the secretary general of NUPL-Negros, former Bayan-Muna Regional Coordinator Jory Porquia, Kadamay secretary general Carlito Badion, peace consultant and peasant leader Randall Echanis and human rights defender based in Negros, Zara Alvarez.
The group also cited the case of Karapatan secretary general of the Southern Mindanao Regional Chapter Honey Mae Suazo who was abducted and never been seen since Nov. 2, 2019.
Palabay was also consistently red-tagged in social media by perceived paid trolls of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The complaint said the red-tagging of Palabay, Karapatan and its members and officers by the respondents violates the principle of distinction under international and domestic humanitarian law.
“The Philippine government is a party to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). One of the hallmark principles of International Humanitarian Law is the principle of distinction, which restricts targets of attacks to military objectives only to protect civilian persons and objects,” the group said in a statement.
The complaint also said that both parties affirmed the applicability of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and its 1977 Additional Protocols, which are main IHL treaties. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has parallel provisions and principles on this.
For Palabay and her group, red-tagging constitutes the Crime against Humanity of Persecution. They cited Republic Act No. 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity penalizes the crime against humanity of persecution.
Section 3(p) of the law says persecution refers to “the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of identity of the group or collectivity.”
“This crime against humanity is committed when there is persecution “against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender, sexual orientation, or other grounds, committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population,” the complaint said.
On the same day, different groups including Karapatan trooped in front of the Department of Interior and Local Government’s office in Quezon City. They called for the defunding and abolition of NTF-ELCAC.
The group said the creation of the task force has “only ramped-up the Duterte administration’s campaign of lies, red-tagging, and mass murder” against progressive groups, human rights advocates, civil libertarians, and members of the political opposition.
The NTF-ELCAC was established when President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 70 two years ago on December 4, 2018. The task force which is under the office of the President has a proposed budget for the year 2021 worth P19 billion ($395 million).
Palabay said that for the past two year, the NTF-ELCAC officials “have slandered and incited harm and violence on a broad range of groups, sectors, communities and individuals through a massive and rabid red-tagging rampage.”
“It has churned out reprisal suits through malicious and baseless accusations, planted evidence, and witnesses whose testimonies are perjured against those who criticize the Duterte’s murderous and anti-people tyranny — with the recent Senate hearings on red-tagging as the roadshow for its lies,” Palabay added.
She added that the Duterte administration poured billions of people’s money to the NTF-ELCAC’s whole-of-nation approach and mobilized the entire government machinery into what she called as “tried-and-failed counterinsurgency tactic that, instead of addressing the roots of armed conflict and insurgency in the country, is nothing more than a thinly-veiled cover for McCarthyite political repression.”
She described the NTF-ELCAC as “a body of foul-mouthed militarists, war criminals, and sycophants which has fomented an even more dangerous climate of impunity in the country; it should be defunded and abolished.”