The spokesman for the government’s anti-communist task force called senators “stupid” for seeking to defund his agency after he red-tagged organizers of charitable community pantries.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade pointed out that the senators themselves were the ones who signed and approved the budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“I’ll tell you, they are stupid if they want to do this,” Parlade said in Filipino. “They signed the law so that the government program could continue, and now they want to defund the NTF-ELCAC? I think that’s unfair.”
Parlade, also the chief of the military’s Southern Luzon Command, said he doesn't earn a single centavo as the spokesperson of the NTF-ELCAC, which he called his “second job.”
But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon demanded that Parlade resign since his position he holds is a civilian one and he is constitutionally barred from occupying it.
“A first-year law student will tell you a cardinal rule in the Constitution that those who are in the active military service are prohibited from occupying civilian positions. That violates the Constitution," Drilon said.
He said Parlade is illegally occupying his position as the task force’s spokesperson.
“Given the fact that his holding of his position is constitutionally doubtful, why doesn't he step down to save everybody from agony?” he also said.
Drilon said Parlade was disrespectful for calling senators who supported defunding the NTF-ELCAC stupid.
At the same time, Drilon also asked the Senate leadership to compel the NTF-ELCAC to submit a report on the use of P19 billion anti-insurgency funds, saying that the funds could be used “in aid of the 2022 election.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Parlade and other officials of the NTF-ELCAC should be defanged and replaced.
“The NTF-ELCAC is a good program,” Sotto said, but he took exception with Parlade likening community pantries to “Satan’s apple.”
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the community pantries sprouting all over the country were the only piece of good news during the pandemic.
"Baseless allegations coming from NTF-ELCAC is like dousing cold water over the warm enthusiasm of ordinary citizens helping ordinary citizens," he said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said fighting hunger does not make one an armed combatant. He said the P16 billion in taxes paid by the people was given to that task force so it can run after the Communist Party, not community pantries.
"Something is terribly wrong when a general berates a millennial because she fed her neighbors. There is no valor in that," Recto said.
While Congress cannot actually defund NTF-ELCAC this year, Drilon said their budget can be realigned to beef up the country’s depleting COVID-19 pandemic response budget.
The President does not need to go to Congress to seek authority to realign the anti-insurgency funds to pandemic response as there is a valid authorization provided in the 2021 GAA for the use of anti-insurgency funds for the COVID-19 response and financial assistance to indigents.
“Insofar as the funding is concerned, the defunding cannot happen now. It can be defunded when we craft the 2022 budget," Drilon said.
However, he said the President has the full authority to realign the funds.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers sought a congressional investigation as well as an audit of the funds of the NTF-ELCAC.
Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero said he would push for the probe next week or even before Congress resumes its session in May.
“The rampant unlawful profiling and obvious red-tagging of organizers of community pantries by officials of the NTF-ELCAC are simply too wicked to be ignored by the members of this august chamber,” said Romero, the president of the Party-list Coalition bloc in the House of Representatives.
Romero said he sees nothing wrong about the bayanihan action exemplified by the community pantries that have sprung across the country as a response to unemployment and hunger amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Attributing malice, without presenting hard evidence, sows division among Filipinos and [has a] chilling effect on those who may want to help their fellow [countrymen],” he said.
He said “the bulk of NTF-ELCAC funds can be channeled to giving more direct financial aid to the unemployed workers displaced by the pandemic, upgrading contact tracing abilities, or providing more hospital beds.”
Misamis Oriental Rep. Juliette Uy supported Romero's call for probe even as she also called for an audit of the funds of NTF-ELCAC.
Uy, in a separate statement, called on the Commission on Audit (COA) to check on the funds of the NTF-ELCAC and the National Privacy Commission (NPC) to see whether the task force has complied with privacy mandates by law.
Uy said these requests of Congress to the COA and NPC are part of their legislative oversight functions.
Also on Friday, the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) unions and chapters from different public hospitals filed on Friday a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) against Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, for red-tagging AHW and its national leaders.
AHW condemned the red-tagging spree being perpetrated by Badoy and the entire NTF-ELCAC against their organization to intimidate and silence them because of their openness in expressing their plight in times of a pandemic.
“We are saddened by this red-tagging issue, that in the midst of pandemic wherein we risk our lives and health in fighting the deadly virus, some of our fellow health workers have already died just to combat the COVID-19 and yet we are being maliciously attacked and accused of being terrorists by Ms. Badoy and the entire NTF-ELCAC,” Benjamin Santos, AHW secretary general, said.
Health workers under the banner of AHW held a series of protests from their wards to express their legitimate demands for protection, safety and well-being in this time of pandemic. Instead of addressing it, the Duterte government, through Badoy, managed to malign and maliciously tag AHW as members of a terrorist group.
“This red-tagging act of Undersecretary Badoy... runs counter to what President Duterte stated last April 9, 2021 that ‘he is recognizing the health workers as heroes in the war against COVID-19’,” the group said in a statement.
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