The Palace on Monday urged the military to exercise prudence in issuing statements after it inaccurately named several prominent University of the Philippines (UP) alumni as members of the New People's Army.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque suggested that if the military were more careful, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana would not need to apologize.
“Defense Secretary Lorenzana has apologized for mistakes. Let’s leave it at that. But there is no overall communication plan on red-tagging. We leave that to the defense establishment,” Roque said in a press briefing.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Civil-Military Operations Office apologized for the list posted on its Facebook page and said it would conduct an internal investigation to find out how it was published.
“We sincerely apologize for those who were inadvertently affected by inconsistencies regarding the List of Students who joined the NPA (Died or Captured) that was posted in the AFP Information Exchange Facebook account,” the AFP Information Exchange said in a Facebook post.
“That article has since been immediately taken down or deleted from our social media accounts,” it added.
The AFP said personnel who were responsible for publishing the list would be held to account.
Roque also said that Malacanang has no access to the information to confirm or deny the military’s allegation that some former UP students were linked to or recruited by the NPA.
Earlier, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., spokesman for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), said that communist recruitment was taking place in at least 18 learning institutions, including UP.
Five top universities identified by the military official have already denounced their inclusion in the list.
One of those on the list, Marie Lisa Dacanay, president of the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia, earlier said that the AFP must be held accountable for releasing what she called "false news."
"I will not take this lightly as we need to make the AFP accountable for actions that are libelous and potentially endangering and wreaking havoc on the lives of individuals like me who are living a peaceful and meaningful life…" she said.
Dacanay said she could sue the AFP.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Monday urged the Duterte administration to “right the wrong and set firm policies against red-tagging” because such a policy disregards due process and the rule of law.
IBP President Domingo Egon Cayosa bewailed as “false and reckless” the action of the military.
“False and reckless publications, shortcuts, and questionable means destroy the very rights, public interests, or principles that we all seek to protect. They weaken the state we claim to defend,” Cayosa said in a statement.
Among those included in the list were the late stage and film director Behn Cervantes, playwright Liza Magtoto, lawyers Raffy Aquino and Alex Padilla, former Environment undersecretary Elmer Mercado, former lawmaker and former Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Roan Libarios, former government official Alexander Padilla, human rights lawyer Rafael Angelo Aquino, and Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia president Liza Dacanay.
“The named lawyers are not members of the New People’s Army (NPA). They were never captured. They are very much alive, not dead. They are responsible and respected Filipino lawyers who serve our country in various capacities and meaningfully contribute to nation-building,” said the IBP, the mandatory organization of lawyers with over 60,000 members.
Libarios is a past IBP national president and chairman of its 20th board of governors. He was editor-in-chief of the U.P. Collegian, vice governor of Agusan del Norte, congressman of the Second Legislative District of Agusan Del Norte, member of the government peace panel in talks with Muslim rebels and a member of the 2018 Consultative Committee on Charter Change.
Padilla was president of the UP Law Student Government, assistant secretary at the Department of Interior and Local Government,commissioner of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, commissioner of Customs, undersecretary of Health, president of PhilHealth, and was at one time the government's chief peace negotiator in talks with the communist rebels.
Aquino was a UP student leader and is legal counsel of Rotary International District 3830, senior partner of a private law firm, and a volunteer lawyer of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).
Last year, lawmakers grilled the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) for sharing unverified Facebook posts against members of progressive groups.
The IBP called out misleading claims not only for the sake of its members but for all victims of similar red-tagging.
“If lawyers and people of stature are put in jeopardy because of red-tagging, we cannot disregard the terror and prejudice that it brings to ordinary citizens who have no means or opportunity to clear themselves as they are unduly threatened, attacked, or even killed by the misguided and unscrupulous,” the lawyer’s group said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan on Monday welcomed the apology of the AFP but described its “alarming” error as a sign of “massive unprofessionalism and politicking.”
“We must remember that a politicized and unprofessional armed forces during the time of Marcos resulted in disunity and coup plots in the '80s and '90s,” he said.
Pangilinan, a former UP student council chairman and the first voting student regent, said the AFP leadership said those responsible for the misinformation should be held in account.
Also on Monday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Department of Justice will not issue a legal opinion on the decision of the Department of National Defense to unilaterally terminate its accord with the University of the Philippines, which prohibits the unauthorized presence of military personnel within its campuses.
Guevarra said he cannot comment on the unilateral termination of the UP-DND agreement because the matter may reach his office for adjudication.
Guevarra said the DOJ will view any request for legal opinion as a request for administrative adjudication or settlement under the Revised Administrative Code due to the "apparent dispute" between UP and the DND on the validity of the termination.
For three decades, the UP-DND accord prohibited the unauthorized presence of state forces in UP campuses.
Lorenzana terminated the pact this month without consulting university officials, claiming UP has become a venue for recruitment into the communist insurgency.
The UP community denounced the DND action, with university president Danilo Concepcion urging Lorenzana to reconsider his decision.
Lorenzana said he is willing to talk but only if UP would explain the supposed deaths of its students who purportedly joined the communist New People's Army.
Critics fear that the termination of the accord threatens the freedom that has made UP a safe space for protests and critical thought for decades. The military, on the other hand, claims the pact stood in the way of law enforcement.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, who initially favored the abrogation of the treaty, said the recent fiasco may merit a reconsideration of the DND decision.
"I think it is prudent now for Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to at least suspend the termination of the UP-DND accord and hold a dialogue as he already mentioned he would do," Lacson, who chairs the Senate committee on national defense and security, said in an interview on CNN Philippines.
"They based their decision to terminate the UP-DND accord, signed way back, on what appears now to be false information. They included personalities that they said were captured or killed in action by the military but turned out to be alive and not captured at all," he added.
But Lacson added Lorenzana and the military establishment "should also be given credit for openly accepting the mistake they made," adding it "takes a lot of humility particularly for Secretary Lorenzana to publicly apologize for the AFP's blunder."
THE Commission on Human Rights said government offices and officials are equally reminded to use their influence responsibly.
“This power to shape perceptions and options, coupled with the resources that enables them to do such, should always be put to good use. After all, the taxes that serve as the lifeblood of the government are from the people and are presumed to be always intended for the greater good,” lawyer-spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.
“And one of the best ways to give life to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ motto of 'Serving the People, Securing the Land' is by being loyal to truth, fairness, and the rights enshrined and guaranteed by the Constitution, such as due process and presumption of innocence among others,” she added.