#SONA2023: Military, police on defensive, NTF-ELCAC unmentioned

Various groups protesting at the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) calling for the abolition of NTF-ELCAC. (File photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat)



Quite a surprise but President Marcos Jr.’s second State of the Nation Address offered little to no mention of the priorities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the notorious National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Yes, Marcos openly asked Congress to tackle reforms in the ballooning and crisis-stricken pension system for military and uniformed personnel (MUP). But whether he backs the MUP’s call not to be made to pay a share in the pension, he was silent.

MUP’s free pension is definitely not a winner with the public who are often told to fend for themselves and to contribute their way to the GSIS and SSS. (Recently, the SSS even sought to raise premiums.)

We have yet to get the technical report accompanying Mr. Marcos Jr.’ SONA to find out the details of his actual policy proposal on the MUP pension problem.

But this could be a potent, positive use of whatever political capital he has left, hopefully in favor of the Filipino taxpayers and public. Marcos should make MUPs pay their fair share in their own pension.

Besides, MUPs are not living in poverty. So much unlike most government employees who are grossly underpaid, MUPs have enjoyed repeated salary increases in the last administration. Sana mag-ambag sila sa pension nila, just like the rest of us.

On a related note, Marcos’s acceptance of the resignation of 18 police officials linked to illegal drugs is a double-edged sword.

It could possibly lend additional credence to the International Criminal Court case and confirms the worst fears of the public that the Duterte drug war led to the formation of new syndicates involving law enforcers themselves.

Moreover, mere resignation may still qualify the erring police officials to receive pension. Observers and critics say that they should have been dismissed and then charged administratively and criminally.

Another area missing in the second SONA is the area of national security and the so-called counterinsurgency campaign.

The NTF-ELCAC did not merit any mention in the speech. Neither did Mr. Marcos join them in the practice of red-tagging or call for another super-expensive and brutal war on communists. Instead, the president asked Congress to support an amnesty proclamation.

This is arguably bad news for the hawks in the Marcos administration.

If any of their priorities did not merit any praise or even a mention in the president’s biggest annual speech, what could that mean? Has Marcos given up on the project? Is Marcos eyeing to abolish NTF-ELCAC to free up the considerable funds that have been put there since it was first established?

After the SONA, the likes of Jeff Celiz, Lorraine Badoy Partosa, and NTF-ELCAC mouthpieces look like “kulang sa yakap” from Marcos. They don’t have SONA soundbites to misuse.

Prior to the speech, I was actually anxious that Mr. Marcos would congratulate the Anti-Terrorism Council and the NTF-ELCAC over the terrorist designation of Cordillera activists. He could have done so, and could have also used virulently anti-communist language. Good thing, he didn’t. There’s no presidential parroting, endorsement or approval of red-tagging or a promise of continuing the NTF-ELCAC in the SONA.

Mr. Marcos should do more. He should abolish NTF-ELCAC and redirect its funding towards more positive and productive expenditures, like bringing back free fares on the EDSA Busway, or rechannel it to more health services in the barrios and sitios.

Mr. Marcos’s plans for an amnesty proclamation also deserves support. This peaceful response to the so-called insurgency is a lot better than extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, red-tagging and expensive press conferences for an endless stream of suspicious and apparently fake or forced surrenderees.

A general, omnibus and unconditional amnesty is actually a part of the agenda in the formal peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front.

Is Marcos’s plans for an amnesty proclamation a possible precursor to discarding the NTF-ELCAC? Could this be the baby steps to restarting formal peace talks?

In his SONA, Marcos spoke the word “security” seven times. But he referred to “social security”, “food security”, “bio-security”, “water security”, and cybersecurity. Nothing about national security, of the type that means a bloody and resource-hungry war effort.

Given the urgent economic problems we face, and the tragic consequences of past national security mistakes, that’s most welcome and should be encouraged. (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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