A government body wants to disqualify the Makabayan bloc’s party-list groups from running for Congress or any public office before the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., vice chairman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), said the task force is confident there is enough evidence to bar Makabayan from running for elective office in future polls.
“Yes, I had said before that is an option, but we are doing it now. It is not only an option now, but we have firmed up our move and we will do that… you can be sure that we will go towards that direction as soon as possible,” said Esperon, a former Armed Forces chief.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier went on a tirade against the Makabayan bloc, composed of the Bayan Muna, ACT, Gabriela and Kabataan party-list groups. He accused them as “fronts” for the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front.
Duterte’s tirade came after Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Eufemia Cullamat’s daughter Jevilyn, reportedly a medic of the New People’s Army, was killed in a clash between soldiers and communist rebels in Marihatag town, Surigao del Sur last week.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, ridiculed a suggestion to criminalize red tagging, saying the President merely laughed it off.
“I told the President last night of the idea of some to criminalize red tagging, he laughed!” Sotto told reporters in a text message.
He said it was like criminalizing name-calling.
In rejecting the suggestion, Sotto said those who felt they were red-tagged should file libel cases against the people who linked them to communist rebels.
This developed as Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday lashed out at the Makabayan bloc of the House of Representatives for accusing the Senate of going on a witch-hunt with its hearings on red-tagging.
Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, peace, unification, and reconciliation, said the hearings have been fair, with all sides given the chance to air their concerns.
Lacson added that information gathered during the three hearings will lead to legislation to address the problem.
He called out the Makabayan bloc for failing to address the allegations of former New People’s Army (NPA) rebels during the hearings, “in spite of all the time and space that the committee had given them.”
Senator Christopher Go defended Duterte’s statements accusing leftist lawmakers of being fronts for the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA, saying that the Chief Executive was merely telling the truth.
Lacson said he was seriously considering the recommendation to criminalize red tagging as long as this would not infringe on the bill of rights involving free speech and freedom of expression.
“We will collate all the testimonies and documents submitted by both sides to the committee and thereafter come up with our conclusions and recommendations in our committee report,” he said.
Lacson also reiterated his support for localized peace talks with insurgents.
While the government should not give up on peace efforts with insurgents, he said it would be better to pursue localized talks with them.
“Giving up on peace should not be an option. But given the failures of past administrations who engaged in centralized peace negotiations, I fully support the present efforts of localizing it,” he said.
He noted the situation of rebels varies in different areas, and the local government units (LGUs) are thus in a better position to determine and address their needs.
“What is needed from the national government would be clear guidelines and parameters for the talks, along with the proper assistance and supervision,” he added.
On Tuesday, the former dean of the Ateneo School of Government, Antonio Laviña, urged senators to criminalize red tagging, saying the baseless linking of individuals to the armed insurgency is “terrorism in its worst form.”
Military officials and former NPA members endanger the people who they accuse of being either communist members and or communist fronts, Laviña said during the Senate’s third hearing on red tagging.
“I appeal to the Senate to criminalize red tagging because it is terrorism in its worst form,” he said.
“My intervention here is the harm you give young people and organizations when you red tag them,” said Laviña, a lawyer for Kabataan Party-list members who are accused of being communist members.
“Targeting the youth is the worst thing you could do for the future of this country... Red tagging them and accusing them endangers their future and that is a danger for the country,” he said.
The state should protect “young people regardless of ideological persuasions,” Laviña added.
Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan said the proposal was worth considering.
“Red-tagged individuals have also become targets of killings, harassment and threats, and the impunity persists because no one is punished for such acts,” he said.
Right now, victims of red-tagging can file administrative cases before the Ombudsman, but these do not seem to be effective, he said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said the government is ready to resume peace talks with the CPP and its armed wing the NPA, but said the group needs to show sincerity.
He made this comment when asked if there is still a possibility of resuming peace talks with the CPP-NPA during an interview with CNN Philippines’ “The Source” Wednesday.
“The government is ready, the President (Rodrigo Duterte) is ready, but what we want from them (insurgents) is (a) little bit of sincerity because we heard what (National Democratic Front chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni said that the peace talk is only a means to advance the revolutionary movement of the CPP-NPA,” Lorenzana said.
The DND chief is also challenging the Makabayan Bloc to renounce the CPP-NPA or its armed struggle and work together with the government “if they really want this country to progress.”
Last month, Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago wept during a Senate hearing as she denied that she was a member of the CPP and denounced government propagandists who were attacking her on social media.
“It is better for them to be with us here in Congress than for them to go to the mountains to pursue an armed struggle against the government,” the lawmaker said.
Also on Wednesday, Esperon expressed sympathy to the family of Jevilyn Cullamat, who was killed in an encounter between Army troops and New People’s Army guerrillas but said she was “a victim of an armed movement which the government condemns.”
In an open letter made available to reporters covering the House of Representatives, Esperon said that it was not the military but her own family that should be blamed for her death at the young age of 22, as her own mother Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat and her entire family supported the NPA.
In the same letter, Esperon called on “allies of the NPA particularly the Makabayan bloc not to politicize and romanticize the death of Jevilyn by calling her a martyr.”
“Jevilyn was not a martyr. She was deceived into sacrificing her life for a cause lacking legitimacy and noble purpose. She was a victim of a manipulative organization that has taken advantage of her from the moment she was radicalized until her recruitment into the armed struggle,” Esperon said.
Jevilyn, the daughter of Congresswoman Cullamat, was the lone fatality during an encounter between the military and the NPA in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur.