House minority leader slams red-tagging, surveillance of party-lists
This file photo shows Rep. Joseph Stephen "Caraps" Paduano.
Release/House of Representatives
House minority leader slams red-tagging, surveillance of party-lists
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - October 26, 2020 - 3:48pm

MANILA, Philippines —  "He better file a case in court or shut up if he has no evidence to show." 

This was the response of House Minority Leader Joseph Stephen “Caraps” Paduano (Abang Lingkod party-list) to the allegations hurled against lawmakers of the Makabayan block by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, spokesperson of the government's task force against insurgency. 

Paduano's statement comes after Parlade, a senior military general and head of the Southern Luzon Command, admitted that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict had been conducting "intelligence surveillance" of progressive lawmakers as well as Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares for what he said was their "very obvious and pronounced" ties to the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Colmenares is a former member of the House, representing Bayan Muna.

Parlade did not corroborate his accusations, and Colmenares has denied the links.

"He sounds like a loose cannon and his words can do more harm than good to the government's anti-insurgency efforts...unless hard evidence is presented against any member of the House, it is the duty of the entire institution to defend any lawmaker against baseless attacks," Paduano said in a statement. 

"We cannot simply ignore claims of harassment, especially if it involves our colleagues," he also said. 

In an interview in 2019 on similar allegations, Colmenares stressed that "You don't lump the opposition with armed combatants just because they espouse similar issues."

"If the NPA believes that there should be land for the landless, it doesn't preclude other groups from also espousing the same principles," Colmenares said, adding national democratic activist groups have thousands of members.

"In my case, in many activists' cases, they continue their activism through rallies, symposiums and so on," he also said then.

READ: Bayan Muna, Anakbayan deny recruiting members for NPA

'Court orders needed for surveillance'

Sections 16 and 17 of the Anti-Terror Law prescribe that state agents may tap communication channels in secret provided they have court orders to do so and adds that an issuing court must first determine that there is probable cause to believe that crimes have been committed. 

Paduano asserted that state surveillance is illegal without a court order, pointing out that even the nation's charter provides that the government and its agents can do surveillance work only upon lawful order of the court.

Parlade earlier insisted that the task force was conducting "intelligence surveillance" which he said was distinct from "legal surveillance." 

"We all know that intelligence information gathering is part of military duty, but we cannot allow Parlade to sow fear or even threaten people he merely suspects to have communist links," Paduano said.

"Furthermore, intelligence works are highly confidential and should not be made public, contrary to what Parlade has been doing," he added. 

Makabayan bloc on allegations: 'An orgy of lies and fake news'

In a statement Monday, the Makabayan bloc condemned the continued red-tagging and surveillance of the party-lists. 

"The P19.1 billion of the NTF-ELCAC could be used to augment the budget for healthcare against the Covid pandemic, to create jobs for those left jobless by the lockdowns and give aid to those affected by the pandemic but instead such a hige amount is being used to spread fake news, red tag and intimidate freedom-loving citizens of this country," the bloc's statement read. 

The bloc also pointed to the controversial and hotly-contested Anti-Terror Law, which they said state forces were "now salivating to use against the opposition and critics of the anti-people policies of the Duterte administration."

RELATED: Protests, political exercises not classified as terrorism — DOJ

For his part, Paduano said that he expects the entire lower chamber to take action, pointing out that even under the Anti-Terrorism Law, being a communist does not constitute a crime unless one has committed a terroristic activity.

Even the justice department has affirmed that terrorist acts are defined as largely intended to cause death, bodily injury, or extensive damage to property and infrastructure. 

"We all know that intelligence information gathering is part of military duty, but we cannot allow Parlade to sow fear or even threaten people he merely suspects to have communist links," Paduano said. 

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco (Marinduque) has yet to issue a response to Parlade's disclosure that members of the House of Representatives are under surveillance by the military.

 with a report from Xave Gregorio 

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES NTF-ELCAC RED-TAGGING
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