At the height of the alleged red tagging of celebrities, personalities, institutions, and organizations in the Philippines, Senate Resolution No. 5593s was filed with the goal of determining whether or not there are legal gaps that need to be addressed concerning the so-called red-tagging controversy in the country.
It also aimed at crafting proper guidelines to prevent misunderstanding between the public and the military while ensuring the protection of the constitutional rights of the people.
The resolution was referred to the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation which has oversight powers over the defense sector chaired by Senator Panfilo Lacson. The committee conducted three public hearings on 3 and 24 November, and 1 December, 2020. These senate hearings were keenly followed by Filipinos across the country.
On 22 February 2021, the Senate Committee on national defense released Report No. 186 on “Red-Tagging,” which was signed by 13 senators. The 66-page committee report came-up with the following recommendations and salient points:
- Executive Order (EO) No. 70, s. 2018, adopting the whole-of-nation approach against insurgency through the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), is effective and provides a better alternative to the intermittent peace talks which the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) – New Peoples’ Army (NPA) and National Democratic Front (NDF) have taken advantage of over the years.
The NTF-ELCAC, as a development-centred initiative, promotes welfare programs such as the delivery of housing, education, social protection, health, and basic services to our people. It refocuses the government policy to armed conflicts not only as a military concern but primarily, a manifestation of broad and deep-rooted societal ills.
To note, the CPP-NPA-NDF is considered the longest-running communist insurgency. It is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States (US), the European Union (EU), United Kingdom (UK), Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Also, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the CPP-NPA as an entity designated and/or identified as a terrorist organization through Proclamation No. 37434 issued in December 2017.
2. Red-tagging is not among the pre-conceived policies sought to be implemented under E.O. 70 of the Philippine government. The alleged deaths as a result of alleged government red-tagging or terrorist-tagging, claimed by the representatives of the progressive groups including members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives (HOR) thus far has no substantial evidence.
3. There is no need to pass a law that penalizes red-tagging because recourse is already provided under the Revised Penal Code, Civil Code, special laws, and other judicial remedies. The report also states that at present, various legal and institutional mechanisms are in place for the State to protect constitutional rights and civil liberties, which can be availed by the leaders and members of the progressive groups, as they have done in the past if they feel aggrieved.
4. The report also pointed out that it is no longer necessary to criminalize “red-tagging” since those who were at the receiving end of red-tagging may avail of the legal remedies under existing laws if the alleged red-tagging violated their constitutional rights.
5. The committee recognizes the duty and role of the NTF-ELCAC in raising awareness of the CPP-NPA-NDF, considering the increase in the recruitment of child combatants/soldiers and deaths of young Filipinos in military and NPA encounters.
6. The Committee also enjoins the members of the Makabayan bloc from the Lower Hopuse to openly and strongly denounce the CPP-NPA-NDF for its actual acts of aggression against the duly constituted government and against the people to disassociate themselves from the armed struggle.
7. On the part of the security sector, the Committee recommended that the security sector should give greater attention to the strengthening of its intelligence gathering and analysis capability to ensure that every information used is indeed verified and actionable.
8. Emphasis should also be given to the socio-economic development component of this whole-of-nation approach particularly efforts to secure territories that remain vulnerable or under the control of the NPA, restore inclusive and sustainable peace, revitalize economic activity, and bring much-needed services to the remote, underdeveloped, and conflict-affected areas.
9. The Committee also believes that the “whole-of-nation” approach spearheaded by the NTF-ELCAC, thus far, could be the most effective anti-insurgency program as evidenced by the continuous and consistent reduction of the influence and strength of the CPP-NPA-NDF.
The most controversial recommendation thus far by the committee report which gained a lot of media attention and the ire of the Filipino public was the recommendation of the removal of Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr as spokesperson of the NTF-ELCAC during the adoption of the committee report by the Senate on 10 March, 2021.
It was Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon who proposed the amendment to remove Parlade because of the “potential conflict between the policies of the NTF-ELCAC and the mandate of the security sector by engaging a spokesperson who does not hold concurrent mandates in the security forces.
Drilon cited Article 16, Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution, which states, “No member of the armed forces in the active service shall, at any time, be appointed or designated in any capacity to a civilian position in the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations or any of their subsidiaries.”
The underlying argument for this amendment is Lacson’s emphasis that the NTF-ELCAC is a civilian task force. He reiterated that the NTF-ELCAC is not a military task force, but a civilian task force precisely tasked or mandated to attend to some development projects in cleared barangays from insurgents. Thus, Lacson pointed out that Parlade’s appointment as a spokesperson of NTF-ELCAC could be illegal.
Nevertheless, the NTF-ELCAC expressed its full support to Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr, regardless of the clamor of some senators for his removal. Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary and Spokesperson of the NTF-ELCAC, Lorraine Marie T Badoy said that, “The NTF ELCAC stands solidly behind Lt. Gen. and rejects calls for him to step down as spokesperson of the task force.”
Badoy further reiterated that Lacson’s claim that the NTF-ELCAC is a civilian task force is wrong. According to her, “it is a task force that enlists each and every member of the government in the battle to end this 52-year communist scourge that has brought so much grievous harm and endless suffering to the Filipino people.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also came to the defense of Southern Luzon Command Chief, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr. Lorenzana said, “the military and the police are obliged to take the lead in the NTF-ELCAC which was created by President Duterte’s E.O. 70 calling for a whole-of-nation approach in defeating the security threat posed by the local communist terrorist groups and their allies.
The main effort is being led by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr is part of the AFP and so his expertise is being utilised as spokesman of the NTF ELCAC. I don’t see any violation of the Constitution.”
He also added that the security forces are the primary implementers of the NTF-ELCAC, with other government agencies only in supporting roles. “We are involved there. If you remove Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr from the NTF-ELCAC, then remove us too. It only means the armed forces does not have anything to do with the NTF-ELCAC, which is not true.
Parlade assumed his role much like the leading role of the military and police in task forces created to pursue terrorists and criminals.” Lorenzana added saying, “We are the ones who implement the main function of the task force. Other agencies are only supporting us, the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways), all of them, DOE (Department of Energy), DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), they are just supporting the main effort.”
AFP Chief of Staff Cirilito E Sobejana also defended Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr and reiterated that he may stay as spokesman of the NTF-ELCAC despite calls of senators to remove him. When pressed by Lacson during the Commission on Appointment hearing for his confirmation as AFP Chief of Staff if he truly supports the statements of Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr, the Medal of Valor awardee and the AFP Chief of Staff Sobejana said, “all statements of Lt. Gen. Parlade has the blessings of the Strategic Communications Committee of the NTF-ELCAC. We support his statements and there’s no way we can overrule his pronouncements.”
In as far as the committee report on red-tagging is concerned, it has been established that red-tagging is not a policy of the state or more specifically of the NTF-ELCAC. State forces have argued that they are not red-tagging those who are part of the machinery of the CPP-NDF-NPA but truth-tagging them.
It was no less than President Duterte who said that the government is “not red-tagging” the left including the legal front organizations of the CPP.
“We are not red-tagging you. We are identifying you as members in a grand conspiracy comprising all the legal fronts that you have organized headed by the NDF (National Democratic Front) and Communist Party of the Philippines,” said Duterte in one of his weekly addresses to the nation.
Another important point raised by the report is for the members of the Makabayan bloc in Congress to denounce the CPP-NDF-NPA and the many atrocities committed and perpetuated by them even today. Thus far, it remains to be seen if indeed the Makabayan bloc would heed the call of the committee.
On another note, it would seem that the senators calling for the removal of Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr have labelled the NTF-ELCAC as a purely civilian entity to justify their demands to remove Parlade from his post as the task-force spokesperson.
When taking a closer look at NTF-ELCAC, one will understand that it is a quasi-government entity under the executive branch. Meaning, it is not necessarily a purely civilian entity nor a purely military entity for that matter; rather a combination of both or a hybrid entity that has military and civilian components and functions chaired by no less than the Commander in Chief of the AFP, President Duterte.
Thus, the justification used by certain senators who want to oust Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr as spokesperson of NTF-ELCAC is not acceptable.