‘Free speech': Año defends anti-communist ‘persona non grata’ tarpaulins

�Free speech': Año defends anti-communist �persona non grata� tarpaulins
This photo shows a tarpaulin declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People's Army and the National Democratic Front as persona non grata in Metro Manila.
The STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — Interior Secretary Eduardo Año defended Saturday the tarpaulins put up in various places in Metro Manila declaring communist rebels as “persona non grata,” saying that these are protected speech.

“The expressions of sentiment against CPP/NPA/NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front) atrocities are free speech and are legally protected under the Constitution,” Año said in a statement.

Año said the tarpaulins, which bear the logos of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), may have been the handiwork of “citizens or certain groups that are fed up with abuses and atrocities” of communist rebels.

He also encouraged other local government units and organizations to put up their own tarpaulins declaring communist rebels as persona non grata “to send a strong message that their terrorism and criminal acts are not tolerated by the people.”

But at least one Metro Manila mayor is not happy with the tarpaulins.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno ordered the removal of the tarpaulins in the city, saying that it would have been better if the money spent for them were used to buy face masks for people.

“We don’t need those kinds of shenanigans. They should have just used the money to buy masks to be distributed to people. That would have helped,” Moreno said in Filipino.

The NTF-ELCAC, which was created in 2018 by President Rodrigo Duterte, has denied that it is directly involved in the putting up of the tarps, countering the statement of PNP chief Gen. Camilo Cascolan.

A persona non grata tag is typically used in diplomacy to bar the entry of any member of a diplomatic staff into a country.

In the Philippines, 20,085 local government units have declared communist rebels as persona non grata in their respective localities, according to the interior department.

But it is unclear how they plan to enforce these measures against these communist groups and their members.

NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Antonio Parlade Jr. told ANC’s “Headstart” that they are consolidating evidence against communist rebels and their supposed allies for them to be designated as terrorists under the heavily challenged Anti-Terrorism Act. — Xave Gregorio with a report from Pilipino Star Ngayon/Mer Layson and Danilo Garcia

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