"The problem is one of optics."
By Joey Salgado
General Antonio Parlade Jr. should thank his lucky stars. The catastrophic aftermath of Super Typhoon “Rolly” has taken media attention away from the Senate hearing into his controversial statements linking several celebrities to the communist movement. During the hearing, defense and security officials were adamant in their denials that red-tagging is a government policy despite the wild allegations of Parlade. The general himself was reported as walking back his assertions on the alleged communist ties of Angel Locsin, Liza Soberano, and Catriona Gray. But he was far from contrite or apologetic.
The problem, to me, is one of optics. The “battle for the hearts and minds” of the people is a “soft” war. Belligerency may not be the right approach. The same goes for making accusations unsupported by facts. But this is far from surprising. Peddling fake news seems to have infected even some people in government. Keep in mind the truism in propaganda that people tend to remember the allegation rather than the explanation. But the general has chosen the wrong targets. By tagging the celebrities for their alleged communist links, the general has done harm to their reputations, and not to the communist movement or their supposed front organizations.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson correctly summed up the impact of Parlade’s red-tagging: “When no distinction has been made between an activist and a terrorist, an idealist and an extremist, a reformist and a subversive, we risk putting everyone under a cloud of suspicion, and our society in a constant state of insecurity.”
But while Typhoon Rolly may have taken away the media spotlight, it did draw the senators’ attention to the huge budget allocated for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), where Parlade is the spokesman. The task force has a proposed budget of P19 billion for 2021.
Compare their budget to the Department of Housing Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD), which has been allocated P632 million. Consider also that their budget dwarfs the executive’s allocations for government offices assisting small entrepreneurs and workers severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic lockdown.
And while the Palace has asserted that acquiring the vaccine for COVID-19 is a priority, the Department of Health (DOH) had admitted that the P2.5 billion allocated in the 2021 budget is not enough to purchase vaccines to meet their initial target of vaccinating 20 percent of the population. The DOH said they would need some P12 billion.
Several senators proposed reallocating the task force budget to aid super typhoon victims and rehabilitate the severely affected areas in Southern Luzon, particularly Bicol. The proposal is worth a serious look, considering the wide swath of damage left by Super Typhoon Rolly.
Officials in affected local governments are unable to fully respond to the needs of their constituents owing to lack of funds. Their respective calamity funds have been depleted, utilized to provide food and other aid during the hard lockdown early this year. They have appealed for help from national government and were promptly pointed in the direction of several national government agencies. But the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) admitted that the fund for disaster risk reduction and management is down to only P3.6 billion. The Palace says it will welcome donations from foreign governments, and the DBM is mulling asking Congress to replenish the fund.
Should Congress consider the request, the budget of the task force would be a convenient source of new funds. And the Palace is amenable. If this happens, the task force will be effectively defunded, a demand made by some opposition senators and the Makabayan bloc. Hopefully, there won’t be any red-tagging of legislators and Palace officials.
The author is a former journalist and a political and government communications practitioner.