Rody ponders truce with Reds; AFP hawkish

President Rodrigo Duterte will give much weight to the military’s recommendation against a holiday truce with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

In a press briefing from Palawan, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that although Duterte would take into account the recommendation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)

Roque said the decision remains with Duterte as the AFP’s commander-in-chief.

“He will listen to the recommendation, but ultimately it’s only the President who will decide,” he said.

In a press statement on Thursday, AFP spokesperson Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the AFP is not inclined to recommend a truce with CPP-NPA, noting that rebels had shown insincerity in previous ceasefire agreements.

Arevalo pointed out that the ceasefire period was just being used by the NPA to continue attacking and killing government troops and civilians.

There were cases in the past that the CPP-NPA reneged from their own ceasefire declaration, he said.

Quoting National Democratic Front of the Philippines negotiator Luis Jalandoni, Arevalo said the CPP-NPA will only seek peace talks to give themselves the chance to regroup, refurbish, recruit new members, and recoup their losses.

“Luis Jalandoni, an NDF (National Democratic Front) negotiator, boldly declared that they push for peace negotiations not really to bring about tranquility, but to pursue armed struggle. They broker peace covenants as a means to an end which is to overthrow the government,” he said.

He said the AFP will not allow the CPP-NPA to trample upon people’s desire for peace, especially during the holiday season.

However, he said the AFP will respect the President’s decision.

Malacañang on Thursday urged the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to ensure the welfare of the child of Amanda Echanis, who was arrested in Cagayan on Wednesday for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Police earlier said Echanis, the daughter of slain Anakpawis chairman Randy Echanis, had insisted on bringing her baby with her, contrary to the claim of some groups that her child was also arrested.

“I’m calling upon the DSWD to take steps to ensure that the welfare of the child will be protected, Roque said.

Police Regional Office II spokesperson Police Lt. Col. Andree Abella said the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group is coordinating with the DSWD regarding the arrangements for Echanis’ month-old baby.

Roque was reacting to a question on how the government would prevent Echanis’ baby from suffering the same fate as that of the daughter f detained activist Reina Mae Nasino.

Nasino had tried to get the court’s permission to visit her sick child at the hospital, but three-month-old River died on Oct. 9 of pneumonia before the judge could act on the motion.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday slammed the military for using the dead photos of Jevilyn Cullamat in an apparent display of victory following an encounter with the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) over the weekend in Surigao del Sur.

“Merely photographing fatalities of war is not a violation of international humanitarian law. However, posing the body for photographs is an outrage against the dignity of the individual who was killed, and is prohibited under the laws of war,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, HRW, in a statement.

“Evidently posed photographs of the body of a female New People’s Army guerrilla are a cruel and unnecessary affront to that individual’s dignity, and violate the laws of war,” said Robertson.

“Committing outrages upon personal dignity is a war crime under the Rome Statute as it applies to dead persons under the Elements of Crimes of the International Criminal Court,” he said.

Desecration of the war dead is also prohibited under the 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Philippines signed by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front, he also said.

The Philippine military’s own “Military Instructions” of 1989 states that “respect for the dead which includes our own troops, the enemy and particularly innocent civilians must be a paramount concern of all commanders and troops at all levels … All dead bodies … must be handled humanely and treated with care and respect,” Robertson noted.

According to the miltary, Cullamat, 22, served as a medic of the NPA. She was the lone fatality during the encounter between the NPA and the Philippine Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion.

She is the daughter of Bayan Muna partylist Representative Eufemia Cullamat, a leader of the indigenous Manobo tribe.

Gabriela Women’s Party called the action a “desecration” of Jevilyn’s body and said that “only psychopaths and terrorists” would be “capable of taking photo opportunities with a dead body.”

“Making a war souvenir out of the remains of an alleged armed combatant is not only a violation of international humanitarian laws but a manifestation of the military’s lack of basic human decency,” Rep. Arlene Brosas said in a statement.

Also on Thursday, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the 1987 Constitution will be the ultimate guide on whether there is basis to criminalize “red-tagging.”

Lacson said he and his legislative staff are poring over position papers and other materials gathered from all sides during the last three hearings on the issue.

“We will study and consider the matter, but the bottom line is that such a move will not violate our Constitution,” he said in an interview on radiio dzAR.

“One major issue to be addressed if we are to criminalize red-tagging or red-baiting is if it will infringe on our Constitution’s provision ensuring freedom of expression and freedom of speech. This is a basic right that cannot be violated. That said, there are opposing views that such freedom is not absolute - that is why we have laws penalizing libel and cyber-libel,” he added.

On the other hand, Lacson maintained the hearings he chaired had been fair, and that the bashing he has received from both sides “comes with the territory.”

He said that while he appreciates the “clarification” by Makabayan Rep. Carlos Zarate of his earlier statement that the Senate hearings had been reduced to a venue for “witch-hunting,” it gave a wrong impression of the conduct of the hearings.

Also, Lacson said he is still being bashed on social media on both sides of the issue. He said this shows he is “doing something right.”

“What is important is that the hearings have helped enlighten the public on the issue,” he added.

Senator Francis Pangilinan said with the state forces’ penchant for red-tagging dissenters, there must be complementary accountability for such acts that could constitute abuse of authority, political bias and disregard for free exercise of views.

He said red-tagged individuals have also become target of killings, harassment and threats, and the impunity persists because no one is punished for such acts.

A member of the leftist Makabayan bloc in the House on Thursday said the red-tagging by the government military is aimed at eliminating “progressive” party-list representatives in the next elections so as to pack the chamber with Duterte allies.

“The Duterte administration and its National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) have themselves revealed that their red-tagging spree against the Makabayan bloc and its progressive party-lists has an electoral agenda, one that favors the candidates to be fielded by the Duterte regime,” ACT Teacher Rep. France Castro said in a statement.

“It is clear that the terrorist-tagging is a preparation for the 2022 elections and it is led by President Duterte himself, who is the eventual beneficiary should it succeed in having progressive party-list groups disqualified from running,” Castro added.

This as Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the red-tagging program of the security services is meant “to maintain and secure more funds for the military’s campaign against perceived insurgents and terrorists.”

“Red-tagging appears to be relentlessly pursued by military officials to justify the retention of the recently formed National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC, which has a huge budgetary outlay of close to P20 billion that has been labeled as the ‘military’s pork barrel,” Lagman sid.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate on Thursday said armed struggle “is a legitimate option of the people against oppression” as he rejected the call of Roque for left-leaning groups to renounce armed struggle.

Zarate said that Roque’s call is “very disturbing” as it attacks their right to freedom of thought and belief.

“While we work for social reforms through elections and legislation, we believe that as a matter of principle, we cannot condemn the peoples option to armed struggle because we believe that it is a legitimate option of the people when faced with a foreign invader, a tyrant or a dictator,” Zarate said.

“More importantly, their demands such as addressing poverty, injustice and other social ills which even the government recognizes as the root causes of rebellion in the country, are legitimate demands,” he added.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Harry Roque , Armed Forces of the Philippines , New Peoples’ Army , Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army , Edcel Lagman , Panfilo Lacson
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