National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict Legal Cooperation Cluster spokesperson, lawyer Marlon Bosantog

MANILA – The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) cried foul over what it called “dishonest statements” from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that propagate hate towards law enforcers.

Lawyer Marlon Bosantog, NTF-ELCAC Legal Cooperation Cluster spokesperson, slammed Wednesday the CHR’s statement condemning the reported strafing of a house in Palapag, Northern Samar on Saturday (June 20), which led to the deaths of two persons who were allegedly “red-tagged” by law enforcement agencies.

“It is dishonest to label legitimate law enforcement operations as results of mere red-tagging. It grievously insults the sacrifices and threats to the lives of soldiers, they who stand between you and godless terrorism,” Bosantog said in a statement.

Bosantog called the rights body’s statement as irresponsible.

“If you come up with statements that are not results of impartial investigations yet you brand them as victims, you brand the soldiers as murderers,” he said in a separate interview with PNA on Wednesday.

Bosantog said the CHR, as an investigative body, should have spoken through the lens of evidence.

“You call for an impartial investigation yet you already adjudged the casualties of the incident victims. You condemned without a chance of fair inquiry,” he said.

Call for justice

In their statement, CHR labeled the incident in Northern Samar as a “violent attack”.

CHR spokesperson lawyer Jacqueline Ann de Guia said the rights body “calls for justice for the family of Jolina Calot, a student of the University of Eastern Philippines and a member of the League of Filipino Students”.

“Her father and his companion were reported to be falsely red-tagged by law enforcement agencies,” she added.

Interagency operation

What was described as a violent attack by the CHR, authorities report, was an interagency law enforcement operation by members of Team Peacemaker or the 20th Infantry Battalion and the Northern Samar Police Mobile Force Company.

Government troops were about to serve a warrant of arrest issued by Judge Decroso Turla dated May 11, 2020, for multiple attempted murder, 20th IB Civil-Military Operations (CMO) Officer 2Lt. Sarah Jane Escobio said in an interview.

“The operation conducted was legitimate and was planned following the rules of engagement. Our group was meant to serve the warrant when the communist NPA terrorists (CNT) fired their guns [at us] which triggered a brief armed engagement,” she explained.

The CMO report identified the subject of the arrest warrant as Zaldy Meraya alias Podyot, a notorious NPA terrorist responsible for various extortion activities targeting government infrastructure projects and business establishments in Northern Samar.

This contradicts De Guia’s statement that Meraya, the father of Jolina Calot, was a mere casualty and a farmer.

“Si Podyot (Meraya) ay responsable sa pangongotong ng milyones mula sa government projects, negosyante, at ordinaryong mamamayan sa Northern Samar. Ang grupo nya ang nanunog ng construction equipment dahil sa pagtanggi sa pangingikil nito (Podyot [Meraya] was responsible for extorting millions from government projects, businessmen, and ordinary citizens in Northern Samar. His group burned down construction equipment here because the management refused to pay them),” Escobio added.

Escobio also expressed her disappointment over the CHR’s “uncalled for” statement.

“Sana nag-investigate muna sila bago sila nag-issue ng statement. Their statement is uncalled for. Hindi sila nag investigate pero sa tono ng salita nila guilty na ang mga law enforcement (They should have investigated before issuing a statement. It was uncalled for. They did not do any investigation/inquiry but from the way they talked, they assumed that the law enforcement was already guilty),” Escobio said.

‘Words matter’

Bosantog , meanwhile, noted in his statement the other implications on the military’s alleged “red-tagging” of individuals.

“Red-tagging has been a repetitive issue brought before the Supreme Court, prominent amongst are in the Southern Hemisphere v KMU, Zarate v Aquino, and last year’s the CA Decisions on NUPL v Duterte et al, and Gabriela v Duterte et al.,” he said.

None in these decisions proved that red-tagging amounted to a threat, or that red-tagging singularly caused a criminal incident.

Bosantog stated that de Guia failed in her due diligence when she did not require the report before vilifying the Northern Samar incident as a result of red-tagging.

“Simply, the CHR spokesperson was dishonest in her statement. As tax-paid government employees, if we do not aim to speak the honest truth, then let us not speak at all. Words matter,” he said. (PNA)