NTF-ELCAC should have ended with Duterte — ex-senator

Ian Laqui - Philstar.com
NTF-ELCAC should have ended with Duterte � ex-senator
Human rights group KARAPATAN in protest to call for the abolishment of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict outside Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
KARAPATAN / Released

MANILA, Philippines — Former senator and justice secretary Leila de Lima said that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) should have been disbanded since former President Rodrigo Duterte stepped out of office.

This is after UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan recommended the abolishment of the government’s anti-communist task force, citing its irrelevance and overstepping its mandate by red-tagging civillians.

She said that the current administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should have not waited for the recommendation of the UN rapporteur “to take it seriously if we are all to move forward from the hate generated under the Duterte regime."

“Duterte's NTF-ELCAC is a threat to human rights & free speech. Tadtad na nga ng anomalya, hindi pa tumitigil sa paghahasik ng lagim at pagbabanta dahil kung sino-sino ang nire-red tag at inaakusahang komunista,” De Lima said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

(Duterte's NTF-ELCAC is a threat to human rights and free speech. Despite numerous anomalies, it continues to sow terror by engaging in red-tagging and accusing various individuals of being communists.)

“It is time we write finis to this abomination of an office that thrives on hate and the targeting of innocent Filipinos,” she added.

It could be recalled that during Duterte’s term, the former president has been fond of branding some of his critics and progressive lawmakers as associated with the communist insurgency.

Even after his presidency, he continued to accuse a Makabayan bloc lawmaker, calling her a communist and issuing death threats. As a result, he faced grave threat charges before a Quezon City fiscal. 

Since NTF-ELCAC’s inception during the Duterte administration in 2018, officials from the task force have consistently presented questionable narratives, targeting human rights advocates, opposition lawmakers, journalists, teachers, lawyers and members of marginalized groups.

Some of its former members face lawsuits filed by journalist Atom Araullo and former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño after they were accused of being involved in the communist insurgency.

The task force also faced allegations of obstructing the progress of long-awaited legislation designed to safeguard human rights defenders, employing arguments that equate activism with terrorism.

NSC defends NTF-ELCAC amid abolishment advice

The National Security Council (NSC) on Friday expressed its opposition to the recommendation of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur to abolish the Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), saying that the anti-communist task force is still needed. 

“We respectfully disagree with UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan's recommendation made this morning to abolish the NTF-ELCAC,” National Security Adviser Eduardo Año said, according to NSC’s statement on Friday.

This is the second time that a UN rapporteur has raised concerns about the anti-communist task force.

In November 2023, a call to abolish NTF-ELCAC was made by Ian Fry, the former UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change during his visit to the Philippines.

Fry faced criticisms from security and officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ) for his evaluation of the NTF-ELCAC, wherein he mentioned that the organization had exceeded its initial mandate by red-tagging civilians. 

Officials from the DOJ and the NSC asserted that his report was deemed "incomplete."

The NSC also said that abolishing the NTF-ELCAC would be “counterproductive” as it allegedly achieved a ”strategic victory” against the communist insurgency.

Despite asserting a “victory”, the NSC, in the same statement, acknowledged that there are still “guerilla fronts” remaining across the country.

“There are still 11 weakened guerilla fronts across the country with some 1,500 armed regulars seeking to overthrow our democracy and the duly constituted government and wreaking havoc and terrorism in the countryside,” the NSC said.

“The term has no basis and cannot be attributed to any current government policy, program or activity,” it added.

Reiterating prior government statements, they emphasized that red-tagging is not an official government policy. Nonetheless, they asserted that red-tagging remains non-prosecutable.

“It is not a policy of any body or instrumentality of government. There is also no legal and binding definition nor is it considered a crime under the laws of the Republic of the Philippines,” the NSC said.

This claim has been refuted by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), which stressed that red-tagging is a kind of defamation and can be prosecutable.

“What Mr. Malaya and the NTF-ELCAC cannot deny is that red-tagging is a malicious imputation that damages the subjects’ reputations and is an act that can and has put them at risk of harassment and worse,” the NUJP said in a statement on Thursday.

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