Lawmakers belonging to the leftist Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives on Tuesday slammed President Duterte's “incoherent rants” against them and denied that they were communist rebels out to destabilize the government.
Reps. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna and Arlene Brosas of Gabriela said the President's tirade was a ploy to divert public attention away from the government’s inaction against the worsening crisis.
In a televised address Monday night, the President said the Makabayan bloc, Bayan and Gabriela are front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its negotiating arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), as well as its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA).
“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is very correct. You are being identified as the members of the communist so that we know. That’s the truth, not red-tagging,” Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino. “We are identifying you as members in a grand conspiracy comprising all the legal fronts that you have organized headed by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines..., the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines,” he said.
The President also denounced the communist movement, saying it does not have any ideology and is only bent on unseating the government.
Duterte accused the legal front members, particularly Zarate, of "accepting money” and “defending an oligarch” but did not elaborate.
“You are friends with the NPA. You co-conspirators. You’ve been a communist for a long time. I know. I know because I know,” he said.
In response, Zarate said in Filipino: “Again, we deny that the Makabayan bloc is a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines, the NPA and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. We are the legitimate, registered party-list groups that joined the parliamentary arena and are now seated in the 18th Congress.”
Brosas said Duterte's "useless tirades [and] incoherent rants" against the Makabayan bloc were a "pathetic ploy to mask the government's inaction against the worsening crisis."
"President Duterte proves that providing socio-economic aid and programs amid the pandemic and series of typhoons is the least of his priorities. Accusing us of being fronts of the CPP-NPA will not change the fact that his incompetence has intensified the crisis we are facing today," Brosas said.
"This is also a direct threat coming from the commander-in-chief. With these baseless accusations, Duterte is playing judge, jury, and executioner by putting the law into his own hands. He practically gave the green light to more extrajudicial killings, human rights violations, and illegal arrests not just against activists but those who are seeking reforms in governance through parliament and airing legitimate criticisms," she added.
The Makabayan bloc also came under attack when Senate President Vicente Sotto III asked its members if they wanted to change the system of government.
“Are you in favor to (sic) the call of the CPP-NPA-NDF to change or overhaul the system of our government?" Sotto asked them during a Senate hearing on the red-tagging of individuals and organizations.
Makabayan bloc members said there is a need to initiate reforms in the system but they do not subscribe to violent means to change the system of government.
In Tuesday’s continuation the hearings, Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the committee on national defense and security, peace, unification and reconciliation, said, “As far as we are concerned, a dead New People’s Army (NPA) rebel or a dead soldier is only as bad and tragic as a dead Filipino.”
He said there is no difference at all except probably the cause they have fought and died for.
Armed Forces Southern Luzon Comand chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. of the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), who was accused of red-tagging activities physically attended the hybrid hearing. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. also appeared in the hearing.
Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan noted the economic development in Mindanao when then President Fidel Ramos pursued aggressive peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberation Front, the Communist Party of the Philippines and even the Reform the Armed Forces Movement during the early and mid-90s.
During that period, Pangilinan recalled an airport, a seaport and hotels were built in Cagayan de Oro, General Santos City and Davao City, respectively.
“But until we address this issue of aggressive peace negotiations and ceasefire, it's going to be a vicious cycle and we will never be able to duplicate [those] economic investments...,” the senator said.
Former deputy regional secretary of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Mindanao, Noel Legaspi, also known as Ka Efren, presented the organizational structure of the CPP-NPA-NDFP during the hearing Tuesday.
Lawyer Neri Colmenares, former Bayan Muna party-list representative, former representative Antonio Tinio, also president of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), former Bayan Muna representative Teddy Casiño and self-confessed former member of the NPA Jeffrey Celiz also attended the continuation of the hearing.
Casiño challenged Esperon to show evidence that progressive lawmakers personally recruited for the NPA, but the latter was unable to do so.
Lacson, a former police chief, then asked Esperon to answer Casino’s question directly.
“Who did they recruit for the NPA? Can you name at least one NPA member they recruited?” he asked.
Esperon could only repeat his allegations that the leftist organizations were recruiting for the rebels.
The Palace on Tuesday maintained its attack on the leftist groups.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said leftist groups should “come out” and admit that they are indeed members of the CPP, saying CPP membership has been decriminalized during the time of the late president Cory Aquino.
He added that the leftist lawmakers should also renounce the criminal acts of the NPA.
Roque said mere membership to the communist party is not a crime but the front groups must still denounce the atrocities committed by the NPA fighters.
“They are good at parliamentary politics. They are always elected as party-list groups. So why not renounce the use of arms? That’s what we’re asking for. While they don’t renounce this and they continue to be part of the use of arms against the republic,” he said.
“First and foremost, let’s be honest. Stop lying about red-tagging. They are really Reds according to the President. That’s the truth,” Roque added.
Among the groups that Duterte mentioned in his tirades were the Makabayan bloc of the House of Representatives which is composed of six lawmakers from Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers Partylist, Gabriela Women’s Party, and Kabataan party-list.
“This is a communal war. There is no longer any ideology. These communists no longer have ideology,” Duterte said, adding “the communists simply wanted to overthrow the government so that they could take over.”
He attacked CPP-NPA founder Jose Maria Sison, saying his guerrilla-like ideology claimed the lives of many uniformed personnel.
He also briefly commented on the death of Jevilyn Cullamat, a Lumad and a daughter of Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, during a clash between government troops and the New People's Army in Surigao del Sur last Saturday.
“Look what happened to Cullamat, her daughter, of course, she'll get killed if she faces the troops, she will die,” the President said.
The President warned that Lumads allied to the CPP and the NPA will soon become "an extinct tribe" if they do not cut their ties and return to their homes.
The Makabayan bloc has repeatedly denied they are members of the CPP, which has been waging a five-decade armed struggle against the Philippine government.
The Duterte administration created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict to mobilize government resources in a "whole-of-nation approach" in fighting the CPP-NPA and compelling its members to surrender to the government.
The 12 organizations under Makabayan are Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Kabataan, Katribu, Migrante, Akap-Bata, COURAGE, Piston, Kalikasan, and Aking Bikolnon.
Aside from Cullamat and Zarate, other lawmakers of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives are Ferdinand Gaite of Bayan Muna, Sarah Elago of Kabataan, France Castro of ACT-Teachers, and Arlene Brosas of Gabriela.
Government troops carried the remains of slain NPA rebel Jevilyn Cullamat for five hours after she was abandoned by her comrades who fled after a clash in Surigao del Sur, a military official told the Senate on Tuesday.
"We treated the body with respect and dignity. In fact, our soldiers carried her body for almost half a day," said Rear Adm. Erick Kagaoan, Armed Forces of the Philippines \deputy chief of staff, during the resumption of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation hearing.
He added that Jevilyn, daughter of Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, "died as a non-state combatant of a group, the CPP-NPA (which was) already declared as an armed terrorist group.”
Kagaoan said government troops were responding to reports of armed groups disturbing the peace in the locality.
"The AFP did not commit the cause of her suffering. She died in the midst of a legitimate gun battle," Kagaoan said, adding that the soldiers "merely performed their constitutional mandate as the protector of the people and we stand by our mandate to protect the Constitution.”
Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), added that the body of Jevilyn was abandoned by her comrades.
"Instead of leaving the body there, our soldiers took the body, wrapped it very gently. It was not turned into a war trophy," Badoy added.
The clash occurred between the members of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion and the communist rebels who were part of the Guerilla Front 19, in Sitio Mabug in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur on Nov. 28.
Esperon, appearing before the Senate, said the site has long been part of several anniversary celebrations of the communist rebels.
"That is really a guerrilla base. We do not do that in the armed forces," Esperon said, referring to alleged acts of desecration of the remains of fallen rebels.
The Senate is conducting the hearing on the issue of alleged red-tagging or red-baiting of certain celebrities, personalities, institutions, and organizations.
Also on Tuesday, the Commission on Human Rights warned the government against red-tagging individuals, saying this endangers lives.
"The CHR does not delve into who is a communist or not. We would just like to caution the government against making sweeping generalizations because it endangers lives," said CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia, in an interview with ANC's Headstart.
"They should observe the principle of distinction in doing red-tagging because clearly there must be a delineation between those who think differently against the government and those who have taken up arms against government."
There is nothing wrong in having a left-leaning ideology if it does not translate into violence, De Guia added.
"The freedom of belief is absolute as long as they do not take up violence," she said.
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