Senate President Vicente Sotto III pushed back against moves by some senators to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), saying it would be hasty to end a program because of irresponsible statements from some of its officials, who should be replaced.
Earlier, Senators Joel Villanueva, Franklin Drilon and Richard Gordon said the NTF-ELCAC should be defunded and its P19.4 billion budget be used instead for pandemic assistance, after the task force’s spokesman, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, smeared organizers of community pantries or food banks as communists.
But Sotto said defunding the task force would give away some of the gains the government had made against the communist rebels.
The Palace also rejected the proposal to defund NTF-ELCAC, saying the task force is aimed at developing barangays cleared of communist rebels, so slashing its budget would not be justified.
“Let us allow the NTF-ELCAC to perform their duties if they really have an official function concerning the community pantries,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
The move to cut funding for NTF-ELCAC was sparked by Parlade, who said they have been doing background checks on community pantry organizers, including leftist groups which may have been “engaging in propaganda” behind such initiatives.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said since 2016, he has been defending the budget of the Defense department and all its attached agencies.
Last year, Lacson said he stubbornly fought to retain the P16.5 billion anti-insurgency fund of NTF-ELCAC for 2021, arguing that it was intended for development programs, activities and projects in areas cleared of the presence of the New People’s Army, and not for armed anti-insurgency operations.
Early this year, Lacson said, the Senate approved his committee’s recommendation to sack Parlade not only because his appointment to a civilian position violated the Constitution, but also because on many occasions, he has become a liability to the overall efforts of the government.
Unfortunately, he said, the Defense department has ignored the Senate’s recommendation, leading him to reconsider his position on its budget for next year.
“This year, I am not sure if I will defend their budget with the same tenacity as I did the previous years. Working together, I believe should be a two-way street, if we want to make it work,” he said.
Senator Nancy Binay said in just a few months, the Senate will start deliberating on the 2022 budget.
“Due to the bad experiences in red-tagging and baseless intel, we will definitely make sure that the NTF-ELCAC budget will go through a fine-tooth comb in the Senate,” she said.
Villanueva asked for a review and realignment of the NTF-ELCAC budget to health and pandemic assistance.
“It is also not giving comfort to the armed enemies. It is simply giving aid to our hungry people,” he said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday filed a resolution condemning the acts of harassment, red-tagging and intimidation by national government officials and law enforcement authorities against private citizens organizing community pantries.
“These heavy-handed tactics by state agents against community pantries are not just undemocratic, they also punish Filipinos who are already suffering because of the pandemic and who desperately need the lifeline extended by these community pantries,” the resolution said.
The resolution also urges the executive branch to ensure the safety and protection of community pantry organizers inasmuch as they provide an invaluable service to communities in these times.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon called for immediate passage of Senate Bill 2121 or the proposed “Act Defining and Penalizing Red-Tagging” amid the relentless red-tagging by officials of the government’s anti-insurgency task force in the middle of a pandemic.
Drilon urged Congress to defund the NTF-ELCAC and realign its P19.4 billion budget to fund the social amelioration program (SAP) commonly called “ayuda.”
“The recent events make the menacing effect of red-tagging more pronounced. We must put a stop to this immediately,” said Drilon, referring to recent red-tagging of various government organizations and even individuals who organized community pantries in their neighborhoods.
“The absence of a law that defines and punishes red-tagging makes it easier for individuals like Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. to make not only unfounded but dangerous and deadly accusations,” Drilon said.
Once enacted into law, red-tagging will be punishable by up to 10 years in prison, Drilon said. He added that persons convicted of red-tagging will be barred from holding public office.
Under the Drilon bill, the crime of red-tagging is defined as the act of labeling, vilifying, branding, naming, accusing, harassing, persecuting, stereotyping, or caricaturing individuals, groups, or organizations as state enemies, left-leaning, subversives, communists, or terrorists as part of a counter-insurgency or anti-terrorism strategy or program, by any state actor, such as law enforcement agent, paramilitary, or military personnel.
The minority leader said the red-tagging by the government’s anti-insurgency officials sow fear among Filipinos such as community mobilizers and organizers, whose work has helped hundreds of needy Filipinos in these trying times.
“I am glad that my colleagues joined me in that call. But we do not have to wait for the 2022 budget debates to defund NTF-ELCAC. The President should realign the NTF-ELCAC [budget] under the 2021 GAA now,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ana Patricia Non, the organizer of the pioneering Maginhawa Street community pantry in Quezon City, slammed the anti-insurgency task force spokesperson Lorraine Badoy for posting on her Facebook account “fake news” linking her to the communist movement.
She threatened to file a legal suit against those who accuse her of being a communist.
In an interview over radio dzBB said she was now consulting lawyers.
“Many lawyers have reached out to give their support because they see that what is being done to me is no longer right,” she said.
Badoy, in her Facebook post Wednesday night, accused Non of being a member of an underground mass organization Artista at Manunulat ng Sambayanan (ARMAS).
Non denied Badoy’s accusations, saying she used to be part of the UP Fine Arts Council that was involved in concerts and feeding programs.
The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) said it would extend legal assistance to community pantry organizers.
“We will defend them. It is just right to defend them,” said PAO chief Persida Acosta.
“We fully support you (organizer). We salute you,” she said of the community pantry organizers. “If someone would harass or arrest you for giving food to the needy, we are just here,” she said.
The Quezon City government, through its People’s Law Enforcement Board, directed the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) to shed light on its role in harassing Non.
In a one-page letter, PLEB executive officer, lawyer Rafael Vicente Calinisan, told Brig. General Antonio Yarra that “in relation to the alleged red-tagging incident re: the community pantry in Maginhawa, we are asking you to submit an explanation on the matter.”
“We are also requiring you to submit an explanation on the use of the QCPD Facebook page for matters which appear to perpetuate red-tagging,” he added.
“We are expecting your response soonest,” he said.
Yarra earlier apologized to Non for the social media post.
“It is beyond comprehension why allegedly certain members of our PNP approached them to ask for the organizer’s cell phone number and her affiliations,” Calinisan said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday said any individual subjected to profiling can file criminal and administrative complaints.
Guevarra said it was unlawful for law enforcement agents to conduct profiling of persons and they can be held liable under the Data
Privacy Law, “depending on the kind of personal data obtained without the consent of the person concerned, and the purpose for which the data was obtained.”
Guevarra earlier said that law enforcement should leave community pantries alone.
“Suffice it to say that a person voluntarily doing an act of kindness and compassion toward his neighbor should be left alone,” he said.
“It is not proper for law enforcement agents to interrogate him unless there is reason to believe that he is violating any law, ordinance, rule or regulation for the good or welfare of the community,” Guevarra added.
He said organizers of community pantries have no legal duty nor are under any compulsion to fill out any forms, as these are not considered business, much less illegal activities.
The Commission on Human Rights and the PAO offered assistance to persons subjected to profiling or red-tagging.
Armed Forces Chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, meanwhile, ordered the Civil-Military Operations Office (J7) to support community pantries and other similar activities.
“So, in fact, we are looking for funds for this purpose and (I’m) even contemplating convincing the members of the Armed Forces to donate one day of our subsistence allowance so with that we will be able to accumulate a substantial amount to support the community pantry or other similar humanitarian undertakings,” Sobejana said.
Regardless of what these are called, Sobejana said what is important is that the planned effort will be able to help feed people who lost their livelihood due to lockdowns.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, alluding to the red-tagging, said “kindness is everyone’s color.”