Rejection of NTF-ELCAC abolition proves Marcos as 'enemy of free expression' — group

James Relativo - Philstar.com
Rejection of NTF-ELCAC abolition proves Marcos as 'enemy of free expression' � group
A demonstrator holds a placard at a protest to mark the 75th International Human Rights Day at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila on December 10, 2023.
AFP / Earvin Perias

MANILA, Philippines — Rights group Karapatan scored the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. after state officials rejected an expert's recommendation to abolish the "outdated" anti-communist task force.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan on Friday urged Marcos to dissolve the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) following instances of red-tagging and renewal of peace negotiations with communist rebels.

"The dirty operators of the Marcos Jr. government’s counter-insurgency campaign have further unravelled themselves as the real enemies of freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, and human rights in the country," said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay on Saturday.

"They want a continuum of their grand scheme of systematic attacks on the rights and freedoms of the people to information, expression, opinion, among other fundamental rights, through the NTF-ELCAC and their National Security Policy."

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año on Friday rejected Khan's proposal, saying that the "NTF-ELCAC does not encourage" red-tagging — a practice many of their past spokespersons have done against legal progressive groups and critics.

Red-tagging involves the linking of individuals or groups to underground communist rebels. Activists claim that this had resulted in harassment, abductions and even extrajudicial killings of dissidents and journalists.

Other government officials who rejected Khan's recommendation were Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. and National Security Council Assistant Director Jonathan Malaya.

Khan is the second UN expert who called for the abolition of the task force after UN Special Rapporteur on climate change and human rights Dr. Ian Fry made a similar recommendation in November 2023.

'File cases instead of NTF-ELCAC abolition'

Año earlier suggested that victims of red-tagging file criminal cases like libel, oral defamation and the like against erring officials instead of abolishing the NTF-ELCAC, this while discouraging them from complaining to members of the media.

Palabay, however, criticized those who continue to defend the agency, saying that they themselves have carried our red-tagging and terrorist-labeling as members of the military.

"Malaya and Año have all the audacity to tell us, rights defenders under attack, to pursue legal remedies for those who have experienced red- or terror-tagging," the Karapatan official said.

"Aside from saying ‘been there, done that,’ the DOJ’s Administrative Order No. 35 task force has become another useless task force, in conducting veracious investigation that may help and lead to the filing of complaints against perpetrators of rights violations and attacks on free speech and expression."

According to Palabay, the AO35 have ironically been used to "whitewash" human rights violations since police and military officials form part of the task force. Their group likewise said that they will continue to call for the repeal of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. 

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