As more businesses slowly reopen with more relaxed quarantine protocols in different areas in the country, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also resumes its red-tagging activities — this time in Brgy. Rodriguez, Montalban, Rizal.
In a press release, human rights alliance KARAPATAN Southern Tagalog (KARAPATAN ST) has slammed the NTF-ELCAC, including the Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM), 2nd Infantry Division (2ID), and the 80th Infantry Brigade Philippine Army (80th IBPA) after the state forces sent a letter to the officials of Brgy. Rodriguez last May 25, 2020. It was said that they organized a meeting under the guise of a “local peace engagement” with at least 80 members of urban poor group San Isidro Kasiglahan, Kapatiran at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan, Katarungan at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD-K3).
NTF-ELCAC stated that the main objective of the meeting was to address the root causes of armed conflict in the area and “to clear out the names of the accused [rebels],” according to KARAPATAN ST. The task force has been red-tagging SIKKAD-K3 as sympathizers and members of the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
This is despite the assertion of KARAPATAN ST spokesperson Kyle Salgado that the group is a legitimate organization. He also criticized the “fascist” priorities of the military forces.
“Ang SIKKAD K3 ay lehitimong organisasyon ng mga mamamayan sa Rodriguez na pinagtagumpayan ang kanilang karapatan para sa libreng pabahay at iba pang nilang kahilingan. Isang desperado at pasistang hakbangin ng NTF-ELCAC ang pamimilit na palabasin bilang mga sumerender na mga miyembro ng CPP-NPA-NDF sa panahon ng pandemya. Imbes na magbigay ng konkretong hakbangin at solusyunan ang nararanasan nating pandemiko, ito ang kanilang pinagtutuunan ng pansin—ang pamamasista,” said Salgado.
The supposedly ‘peaceful engagement’ with the urban poor group last May 28 was turned into a public screening of military propaganda videos — red-tagging activists, organizations, and of communists who allegedly surrendered to the military.
The invited individuals were profiled by the state forces and also presented by the military as “surrenderees” of the CPP-NPA-NDF.
KARAPATAN ST also revealed that aside from SIKKAD K3, residents from other parts of Rodriguez, Rizal were also invited including those from Brgy. Puray, Brgy. Macabud, and Brgy. Licao-licao. Locals from Brgy. Calawis, Antipolo and Brgy. Sta Inez, Tanay were also invited last May 30.
AFP-PNP track record of deceiving, red-tagging
For KARAPATAN ST, the latest move is yet another addition to a series of deceiving information from the state forces that has tainted their credibility and made the government’s anti-communist efforts questionable.
Last December 2019, the Philippine Army received backlash after the 9th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office was caught ‘photoshopping’ a photo of fake NPA surrenderees.
Military forces in the Southern Tagalog are also notorious for red-tagging labor union leaders and workers in the region. A recent incident involved 9 Coca-Cola workers who were harassed in the middle of their shift and forced to surrender as communist rebels (READ: Nine Coca-Cola workers face harassment amid pandemic; workers alliance criticizes state forces’ intimidation)
During Labor Day, May 1, the Philippine National Police (PNP) Calabarzon picked up at least 19 workers — also from the Coca-Cola plant in Sta. Rosa, Laguna — and presented them as “rebel returnees,” complete with revolver pistols that allegedly belong to the workers (READ: Labor center: 16 workers’ surrender ‘all-out lie’)
Crackdown a priority over COVID-19 efforts
Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, Filipinos are facing yet another threat — now to their democracy — as the Congress approves the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (READ: Monopoly on violence). Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that the bill is now “good as passed” and will only need his signature for President Rodrigo Duterte to receive the final bill. The President earlier certified it as urgent.
Rights organizations and alliances in the country have sounded the alarm over its human rights implications, especially after the recent killing of urban poor leader and Kadamay secretary-general Carlito Badion in Ormoc City, Leyte last May 28.
KARAPATAN ST has also condemned the passing of the bill.
“Linalaman nito na maaaring ikulong ang sinuman na mababansagang terorista. Ang pagpapabilis sa pagpapasa ng ATB ay patunay din lamang na ang prayoridad ng kasalukuyang rehimen ay ang patuloy na maghasik ng lagim at pasismo laban sa mga mamamayan. Ang mga ganitong atake sa mga mamamayan ay lalo lamang magbibigay daan upang mas lalo pang manindigan para sa mga karapatan at mithiin ang sambayanang Pilipino. Magpapatuloy ang paglaban ng mga mamamayan sa Timog Katagalugan at sama sama nitong bibiguin ang pasismo ng estado,” said Salgado.
As of Thursday, KARAPATAN ST alerted that another text message from the NTF-ELCAC has been received by SIKKAD-K3 requesting them to attend another meeting on Friday, June 5 “to discuss the issues of housing and social services.” The watchdog described this latest move as a “seemingly desperate” attempt of the military forces to further hold dialogues with the group.
By Saturday, June 6, military agents were seen roaming the community and were conducting cluster meetings.
According to locals, the military also distributed pamphlets supposedly answering SIKKAD K3’s and KARAPATAN-ST’s statements, which were seen and condemned by KARAPATAN-ST as another case of red-tagging and misinformation.[P]
Photo from Kumasa Rizal.