'Sayang lang pera’: Senators want to defund red-tagging task force

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
'Sayang lang pera�: Senators want to defund red-tagging task force
Screen grab shows Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. attending a Senate hearing on red-tagging.
Screen grab / Senate of the Philippines YouTube

MANILA, Philippines — (Updated 12:16 p.m.) Senators have revived proposals to defund the government's anti-communist task force after one of its red-tagging spokespersons' outburst over a community pantry organizer left them in disbelief.  

Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., a spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict, on Tuesday, likened Ana Patricia Non, the founder of the pioneering Maginhawa community pantry, to the devil.

“She did it alone right? That Ana Patricia. Same with Satan. Satan gave an apple to Eve. That's how it started," Parlade said partially in Filipino during an interview with One News' "The Chiefs" on Tuesday. 

In response, Sen. Joel Villanueva on Twitter Wednesday said the NTF-ELCAC's P19 billion budget should be reallocated for aid. "The people need that more than this nonsense," he said in Filipino. 

"We should move to defund NTF-ELCAC in the next budget. Sayang lang pera ng taong bayan (The people's money is being wasted)." 

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian replied shortly after to voice his agreement, saying: "If these are the kind of people who will spend hard earned taxpayer's money, then it's not worth it." 

Meanwhile, Sen. Nancy Binay in an interview with CNN Philippines' "News Night" that same day said she believed it was "high time" to review the task force's budget. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Thursday condemned the NTF-ELCAC's red-tagging of "the least deserving," adding that she has a problem with the very existence of the task force, as well as its outsized budget, when inter-agency cooperation could easily carry out its functions. 

Earlier Thursday, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan in a statement to TV5 similarly took a swipe at what he called Parlade's twisted thinking and backed Villaueva's proposal to redirect the task force's budget to aid for those in need. 

Harassment from Quezon City police and the NTF-ELCAC caused Non to temporarily halt operations on Tuesday for the safety of volunteers. As a result, droves of people hoping for food qued along Maginhawa Street before dawn only to leave empty-handed. 

Other community pantries have also reported incidents of red-tagging on social media and attempts from authorities to profile them. 

READ: Senators: Leave community pantries alone

Senators last month sought Parlade's dismissal as NTF-ELCAC spokesman but not on account of his red-tagging. Instead, they said that his serving on a civilian task force despite being an active member of the military, as chief of its Southern Luzon Command, violates the 1987 Constitution. 

But will senators actually defund the NTF-ELCAC? 

Long have the been calls to reallocate the government's anti-insurgency funds but the NTF-ELCAC continues to receive billions in taxpayer money each year. 

In November year, Sen. Risa Hontiveros sought to redirect part of the NTF-ELCAC's proposed budget for 2021 to victims of Super Typhoon Rolly which left some 25 dead and caused over P17 billion worth of damage. The anti-communist task force's Barangay Development Program, which Hontiveros proposed drawing funds from, is worth P16 billion. 

That same month, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he and some six other senators wanted to realign the task force's budget, flagging the NTF-ELCAC's outsized discretion over the same Barangay Development Program fund identified by Hontiveros.  

However, this clamor was dismissed by Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the committee on finance, and Senate President Tito Sotto, who moved to retain the task force's entire P19 billion budget for 2021. 

Threats issued by Parlade against celebrities and left-leaning groups caused the Senate defense committee to launch a probe into red-tagging last year. 

But the committee report, dated Feb. 22, 2021, concluded that legal remedies "are sufficient and available for personalities or groups that have been the subject of the so called 'red-tagging.'"

The report also concludes "that criminalizing 'red-tagging' is no longer necessary" due to the availability of legal remedies.

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