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Senate hearing became a ‘roadshow for lies,’ – human rights group

Progressive groups blasted the November 3 senate hearing and called for the defunding and abolishment of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The organization was called “deceptive, fascist, and terrorist” by various groups.

Human rights group Karapatan — one of the groups repeatedly tagged as terrorist organizations and fronts for the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) — said that the senate hearing on Tuesday became “a roadshow for NTF-ELCAC’s lies.” 

“Except for the insightful and independent interventions of Senators Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, and Grace Poe, as well as the statement of Makabayan legal counsel Maneeka Sarza, the rest of the hearing reeks of malicious accusations and unfounded statements already debunked by court rulings, including the recent decisions of the Supreme Court and Department of Justice on the baseless cases driven by the NTF-ELCAC,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

They also directed their disappointment at the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, spearheaded by Terror Law principal author Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Sr.

ACT Teachers Representative France Castro said that the Senate hearing has been a “terror-tagging spree” for the NTF-ELCAC and felt that it served an ulterior motive. 

“They are using this Senate hearing to justify the general’s pork under the NTF-ELCAC and push back from the backlash they got from red-tagging celebrities, personalities, institutions and organizations,” Castro said. 

The senate hearing was triggered by controversies involving NTF-ELCAC spokesperson and Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. ‘s alleged red-tagging of Liza Soberano and Angel Locsin.

According to labor union Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), tactics such as the one allegedly enacted by Parlade enable human rights violations.

“With insinuations and direct threats such as those uttered by Gen. Parlade addressed to Ms. Liza Soberano, Ms. Angel Locsin and Gabriela, the NTF-ELCAC is directly suppressing freedom of thought, and adjudging guilt to them by mere association. By employing vicious red-baiting tactics, security forces are laying the ground to committing gross human rights violations.,” KMU said, describing this as a “hallmark of dictatorship.”

Meanwhile, Anakbayan Secretary-General Vinz Simon said that Duterte and his cronies denied Filipinos their economic and political rights by subverting democratic processes and institutions.

“The NTF-ELCAC has been provided with billions for red-tagging. They surely help their master Duterte to criminalize and endanger the very organizations that genuinely seek to serve the people and their interests. With this, the NTF commits the same dire mistake of every preceding oppressive machinery by failing to address the social roots of conflict,” Simon said.

Palabay calls for the defunding and abolishment of the NTF-ECLAC which she said has a policy that incites human rights violations.

“Red-tagging and red-baiting are acts that incite war crimes, [s]tate violence, and other forms of human rights violations against civilians, particularly those who express dissent on the government’s anti-people, fascist, and murderous policies. This deadly rhetoric, which is clearly the overarching policy of the NTF-ELCAC no matter how they try to deny it before the public, is based on lies — and a task force like the NTF-ELCAC which is based on deception and puts lives in danger should be defunded and abolished,” Palabay said.

Meanwhile, the KMU shared the same call for the NTF-ELCAC, which they labelled as a “terrorist” organization.

“We, the people, urge our lawmakers to act swiftly to defund and abolish the terrorist NTF-ELCAC. The people cannot fund something that is of no value to them, and at the helm of human rights violations in the country. This deadly practice of red-tagging must be halted once and for all,” KMU stated.

Not a vehicle for red-tagging

All six lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc — a coalition of left-leaning political parties — skipped the Senate hearing on red-tagging practices, stating that the Senate should not be used as a vessel for red-tagging and to endanger the lives of members of progressive groups. 

 “Umaasa kami na hindi ninyo pahihintulutang magamit ang inyong komite at ang Senado bilang lunsaran ng red-tagging o terrorist-tagging, isang polisiya na makailang-beses nang napatunayan ng United Nations Special Rapporteurs na nagbibigay-daan sa pulitikal na pamamaslang sa pamamagitan ng [mga] extra-judicial killing o EJK, sa gawa-gawang kaso, at iba pang paglabag sa karapatang pantao,” the Makabayan bloc wrote in their letter to the Senate. 

Lawyer Maneeka Sarza, who represented the bloc at the hearing, said that the lawmakers were undertaking “separate relief missions” for victims of Super Typhoon Rolly.

National Security Adviser (NSA) and NTF-ELCAC Vice Chair Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. said that the absence of the Makabayan [B]loc lawmakers in the Senate hearing is a waste of “democratic space.”

“You are always calling us [disseminators of] fake news but you, you’re not only fake news, you’re [also] no show. Which is more difficult, no show or those willing to show up and present. Next time, we better see each other so that we can explain and enlighten our countrymen,” Esperon said, adding that he has information proving that the lawmakers did not actually attend relief missions.

Despite Esperson’s remarks, the six Makabayan Bloc lawmakers are among the top 10 in the list of House lawmakers with the most number of filed legislative measures from July 1, 2019 to October 25, 2020.

In the list are Bayan Muna Representatives Ferdinand Gaite, Karlos Ysagani Zarate and Eufemia Cullamat in 2nd, 3rd and 5th place respectively, Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Elago at 6th place, Gabriela Women’s Partylist Representative Arlene Brosas at 8th, and ACT Teachers Partylist Representative France Castro at 10th.

The Makabayan Bloc, on October 26, were also accused by Parlade of being “card-bearing members” of the Communist Party of the Philippines even without evidence to back up his claims. 

Parlade also revealed that members, which he referred to as the “Kamatayan Bloc,” were under surveillance due to alleged ties with communist rebels.  

Gaite responded to Parlade’s allegations by citing Makabayan Bloc’s congressional records. 

“Congressional records will show that Makabayan Bloc representatives are some of the most hard-working members of the Lower House consistent with our sworn duty to pass legislation in support of people’s rights and welfare, definitely not some terrorist group Lt. General Parlade and his ilk in the NTF-ELCAC desperately tries to portray us,” Gaite said in a statement on October 26. [P]

Photo by Dean Carlo Valmeo

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