Bayan: Why is the burden on us to prove we're not a rebel front?
In this 2017 file photo, members of Bayan hold a rally in support of the peace talks, land reform, and national industrialization.
Bayan/Released, file

Bayan: Why is the burden on us to prove we're not a rebel front?

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - November 25, 2020 - 5:10pm

MANILA, Philippines — Left-leaning and activist groups do not need to condemn the Communist Party of the Philippines to prove that they are legal democratic organizations, groups said Wednesday. 

In a statement issued Wednesday through the official Facebook page of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Gen. Gilpert Gapay, AFP chief of staff, slammed former Rep. Teddy Casiño (Bayan Muna party-list) for "missing" his opportunity to condemn the CPP at the Senate probe on the red-tagging on Tuesday. 

"Casiño had one good chance to draw a line between his party-list and the communist terrorist group and he missed it," he is quoted as saying by state-run Philippine News Agency. 

At the hearing at the Senate, the former congressman said: "Our organization is not the front of the [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front] or any other group."

"We are also not doing anything illegal. If they have credible and admissible proof that we are engaged in prohibited activities, then they should file an appropriate case in court, not badmouth us and put our lives in danger," Casiño also said, partially in Filipino.

It has been a constant challenge laid down before activists accused of being fronts for communist rebels: Condemn the New People's Army — the CPP's armed wing — and we'll believe you're not NPA.

At the hearing Tuesday,  Casiño, Bayan spokesperson, said: "We may not agree with their program, we may not agree with the way they are pushing their agenda but our attitude towards them is we engage because we recognize that their struggles are rooted in legitimate issues and grievances of our people,"

Renato Reyes Jr, secretary-general of militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan asks: Why does the burden of proof fall on the accused in this case?

"No organization is under any obligation to condemn the CPP-NPA just to prove their legality, in the same way no one is required to condemn illegal drugs just to prove one is not an addict," Reyes wrote in a Facebook post the night of the hearing. 

"It is easy to say we should be making a blanket condemnation of rebellion instead of asking why rebellion exists in the first place. What will the condemnation achieve? Will it solve and address the root causes of the armed conflict? It will not," he also said. 

"To insist on condemning the CPP-NPA as a requirement to prove one’s legality and to escape red-tagging is nothing more than witch-hunting. It shifts the burden of proof on the accused. Do we have to condemn Marx too?" he also said.

In contrast, police and military personnel facing formal complaints under the Duterte administration have largely been afforded the presumption of innocence.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra in 2019 stressed after the Department of the Interior and Local Government proposed reviving the Anti-Subversion Law — which outlawed communism and which was repealed in the 1990s — that  "being leftist is far from being terrorist."

He added that "as long as activism remains in the realm of ideology, there is nothing to be alarmed about." 

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who called the hearing on red-tagging, said Tuesday night: "Will somebody help explain the logic of some members of Congress publicly condoning the New People's Army that has been waging a protracted armed guerrilla warfare against the same government that employs them?"

"I would have expected a 'sympathy for their cause but not their methods' response from the Makabayan bloc who attended the second red-tagging hearing yesterday. That would have been understandable and completely acceptable as a response to my question about the NPA," he also said in a statement posted on his official website.

RELATED: Actually, the government acknowledges poverty and injustice fuel conflict

'War on broad democratic opposition?' 

In a separate statement carried by the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Facebook page, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. — spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and chief of the military Southern Luzon Command — called out Rep. Ferdinand Gaite (Bayan Muna party-list) for not attending the Senate hearing on Tuesday.

"[W]here were you Mr. Gaite? We didn't see a whisper of your shadow. Why are you so afraid of us?" Parlade said.

He also claimed that members of national democratic activist organizations are committing sedition.

"They can no longer be called legitimate dissenters as their agenda is clear: it is not dissent, it is sedition. It is to topple a democratically elected president, with the help of an opposition who has no explanation and legal solution to contest a highly trusted, wildly popular president," he also said.

Parlade's statement did not sit well with Akbayan Chair Emeritus Etta Rosales, a former party-list representative who comes from a separate political formation. 

"Did the AFP just declare war on the broad democratic opposition? Is it now open season to harass and kill opposition leaders?" Rosales said in a statement Wednesday.

"We call on the AFP top brass to explain themselves to the public. Did the AFP just officially red-tag the entire democratic opposition? Is 'settling blood debts' now the military's official policy in dealing with political dissidents? Did the AFP just declare open season to harass, intimidate, even kill leaders of the broad opposition?" she also said.

"The statement betrays the core principles and professionalism of the AFP as an institution and is a dangerous and direct threat of force that cannot be taken lightly. By endorsing Parlade's statement, the AFP reduces itself to a Tokhang hit squad," Rosales said. 

Akbayan identifies as a democratic socialist party and has had clashes with the the national democratic movement. In a statement on November 3, the party said that it "condemns the act of maliciously, sweepingly and without basis labelling, branding and accusing citizens and organizations as 'communists' to harass the public and muzzle the voice of dissent and freedom of expression." 

It said then that "red-tagging is a relic of a dark past [and] has no space in modern democracy."

'Red-tagging a platform to justify, escalate anti-communist witch-hunting'

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, the CPP's Information Bureau said the NTF-ELCAC used the Senate hearing to justify its crackdown on democratic mass organizations and on political organizations with the Makabayan bloc. 

It said that "many non-communist Filipinos, some senators included, agree with the CPP on lots of points, including defense of human rights, wage increases, land reform, ending China occupation of Philippine territories, abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and other unequal treaties with US, among many others" and that speaking out about these issues does not make one a communist.

"The CPP is not the sole purveyor of these issues, and belittling human rights, people’s organizations and even religious institutions as mere 'fronts' is denying their historical role in fighting for social justice and democracy within the stifling confines of the reactionary law," CPP information officer Marco Valbuena said in the statement.

"Intolerant of dissent, the regime only aims to silence first the Left, then all the rest left standing." 

He also lambasted intelligence officials for what he said was their failure "to understand that the CPP can share the same ideals and aspirations with so many different forces in the Philippines."

CPP-NPA yet to be proscribed as a terrorist group

Activism, and holding leftist views, or even membership in the communist party does not actually constitute a crime under the laws of the Philippines, contrary to the assertions of some government officials. 

At the same Senate hearing, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency chief Alex Monteagudo asserted his claim that the Communist Party of the Philippines is a terrorist organization. 

"We'd like to remind the audience that the CPP-NPA is a terrorist organization. It is not just a group that is rebelling against a government but a declared terrorist organization not only by the Philippines but also by other countries," he said then. 

"If our gentlemen who support this terrorist organization truly believe in the cause of this NPA, why do you allow the recruitment of children of other parents?" he also said.  

While the Communist Party of the Philippines has been designated a terrorist organization by the US Department of State and the European Union, membership in the CPP is not a crime under the country's laws and has not been one since 1992, when the Anti-Subversion Law was repealed during the Fidel Ramos administration.

“By assuring communist insurgents of political space, we also challenge them to compete under our constitutional system and free market of ideas—which are guaranteed by the rule of law," Ramos said then in a speech. 

Upon his landslide election win in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte initially promised a peaceful end to the insurgency, though officials within the Duterte administration, including Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, have since renewed calls to revive the Cold War-era law. 

RELATED: Duterte declares permanent termination of talks with Reds

Duterte later declared the group a terrorist organization in December 2017 by virtue of Proclamation No. 374 after peace talks with the rebels crumbled, though the CPP-NPA has not yet been legally designated as a terrorist organization by Philippine courts with the petition still pending at the Manila Regional Trial Court.

"Under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, only the Court of Appeals can order the proscription – not the Anti-Terrorism Council, nor the president. Further, the burden of proof lies with the Department of Justice. Even membership in a proscribed terrorist group goes through the same due process which the DOJ has to prove," Sen. Lacson, author of the Anti-Terrorism Act at the Senate, said in June.

"Therefore, the 'declaration' is a personal opinion of the president, not official," he also said then. 

"The trial of the proscription case against the CPP-NPA is still pending before the Manila RTC. With the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the trial will be transferred to a division of the Court of Appeals to be authorized by the Supreme Court.

WATCH: Duterte tells communists 'you are terrorists because I declared you to be one'


"Unmasking" communist members as members of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict is also different from putting the lives of members of legal activist groups in danger by publicly accusing them of being armed rebels without proof. 

Philippine jurisprudence defines red-tagging as “the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy... by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State.’”

Activist groups and the Commission on Human Rights have warned that the practice endangers lives

Monteagudo himself is among administration officials engaged in the practice, though, as the intelligence chief on multiple occasions has publicly accused legislators at the House of Representatives' Makabayan bloc of being part of "communist terrorist groups."

"I want to remind the [Armed Forces of the Philippines], [Philippine National Police] and [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict] that many have disappeared, been killed, illegally arrested or slapped with trumped-up charges after being red-tagged," Rep. Sarah Elago (Kabataan Party-list), among the lawmakers named by Monteagudo, said in Filipino in her opening statement at the same hearing. 

She pointed to the cases of human rights advocates Zara Alvarez, Ryan Hubilla and Jory Porquia, all of whom were gunned down by unknown assailants after previously being publicly accused of being communist rebels. 

Even UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a June 2020 report on the human rights situation in the Philippines has noted that labelling criticism and dissent as rebellion was becoming a common and "institutionalized" practice.

"Under our laws, there is no problem if one person is a 'red', but the problem with red-tagging is that this is used to assert that a target is committing a crime," Elago also said. 

 with reports from Bella Perez-Rubio and Gaea Katreena Cabico 

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