On Dec. 4, 2018, President Duterte signed Executive Order 70 constituting a body, headed by himself, called “National Task Force (NTF) to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict.” It set a six-month period, from its issuance, for the NTF to “formulate and start to implement, in coordination with relevant government agencies, LGUs, civil society and other stakeholders a ‘whole-of-nation’-driven National Peace Framework.”
One would have thought then that all the requisites were already in place for the pursuit and attainment of the NTF objective. After all, prodded by his military advisers, Duterte had announced that the armed conflict would be ended in 2019. And as cited in this space last Aug. 3, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had declared 71 of the country’s 81 provinces as “conflict-manageable and ready for further development” areas.
The NTF didn’t wait for six months to take action. What has it done so far?
In January, it dispatched a military and civilian team to Europe and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), then at its 40th session in Geneva. At that session the NTF team tried to denigrate the documented reports submitted by the human rights groups on continued extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations carried out under the Duterte regime. The team also made the round of European states, urging them to stop funding human-rights and other organizations aiding marginalized sectors and communities, which Philippine security forces have tagged as “fronts of the CPP-NPA.”
Results of that NTF mission: 1) The UNHRC, at its 41st session last month, voted to request UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to produce a “comprehensive written report” on the human rights situation in the Philippines for presentation to the UNHRC’s 44th session. 2) The consortium of European funding agencies declared it had verified the NTF allegation and found no evidence of fund misuse by the beneficiary organizations. 3) Last Tuesday, European Union Ambassador Franz Jessen categorically stated (on One News-Cignal TV): “For many years we are extremely cautious and very careful… so we have not supported (communist affiliated groups).”
Also in January, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana acknowledged that the 50-year-long armed conflict couldn’t be ended this year. But if the target would be reset to the end of Duterte’s term in 2022, he surmised that “we can probably do it.”
Since then, the AFP and the PNP have been carrying out nationwide an intensified campaign of red-tagging, harassment, threat/intimidation – and in some instances, outright killings – against leaders and members of legal progressive people’s organizations. Some of these organizations have sought support from the Commission on Human Rights and protection by the Supreme Court by issuing the writs of amparo and of habeas data.
Before and during the three-month campaign period for the partylist elections in May, the AFP and PNP disregarded the constitutional prohibition against electioneering. They actively engaged in a failed campaign for “zero votes” for the partylists belonging to the Makabayan Coalition in the House of Representatives. The latter has demonstrated its staying power in the political landscape by sustained election victories since 2001.
In June, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) admitted, in a power-point presentation to journalists at a major broadsheet: “If there is an area where we are losing against the CPP-NDFP-NPA, it is in the area of propaganda.” The NTF, NICA director-general Alex Paul Monteagudo disclosed, was studying the NPA’s propaganda techniques “because they are the most efficient and effective in that area.” The NICA admission, in effect, shows the public believes the NPA more than the AFP.
Early this week, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año, former AFP chief and a member of the NTF, said that the CPP-NPA annually “indoctrinates” from 500 to 1,000 youth “to either become NPA fighters or serve as militant student leaders in their respective schools” (as the Philippine Star reported). He proposed two draconian measures:
One is to restore the anti-subversion law – Republic Act 1700 of 1957, which outlawed the CPP. The original law was expanded by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos via two decrees, which made it a criminal act “to affiliate with a group, attend a meeting or take part in any activity to overthrow the government.” RA 1700, which no one has been convicted of violating, was repealed in 1992 under the Ramos administration; this legalized the CPP in effect.
The other proposal, supported by Defense Secretary Lorenzana, is to amend the anti-terrorism law – the Human Security Act of 2007. Año wants, among others, to remove the restraints on law enforcement authorities, and instead to give them much more powers in nabbing and detaining people. Lorenzana also wants a longer period of authority to undertake wiretapping operations to 60 days (from 30 under the law as it is now) plus 30 days extension.
Restoring the anti-subversion law, Año pointed out, is the “best option” to end the communist insurgency and would complement Duterte’s EO 70.
He took care to point out that his proposal would only cover “communists who are actively working for the overthrow of the government through armed struggle and does not, in any way, cover legitimate dissent, political opposition, or similar groups.” But he also wants “all organizations providing support to the CPP-NPA” to also be declared illegal and mere membership should be considered a criminal act.
With the revival of the anti-subversion law, Año expressed his hope that “we will be able to dismantle the urban mass movement in the cities that fuels the armed struggle in the mountains.”
Lorenzana seconded Ano’s proposals, going further by citing specific legal organizations to outlaw. “I would target the groups that are actually an organ (sic) of the CPP-NPA,” he said, “and one of them is what you call the Makabayan bloc,” which he accused of “only support[ing] the agenda of the NPA.”
Whether Lorenzana mention them as organizations “under” the Makabayan bloc or not, in its report the PhilSTAR erroneously named Gabriela, Anakbayan, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Pamalakaya, Kadamay, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and League of Filipino Students. (I have been the president of the Makabayan Coalition since its formation in 2009 and accreditation by the Comelec since 2010.)
Together the two proposals, if enacted into law, are intended to mangle the constitutionally guaranteed civil and political rights of any citizen tagged as either a “subversive” or “terrorist,” or both.
Not surprisingly, they are generating strong opposition from broad sectors of civil society, pushing back against these creepy reminders of the time when outright authoritarian rule stalked our land.
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Published in Philippine Star
Aug. 17, 2019