CHR urges review of NTF-ELCAC’s mandate

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
CHR urges review of NTF-ELCAC�s mandate
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 — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) called on the government’s anti-insurgency task force to re-evaluate its purpose after a United Nations special rapporteur called for the scrapping of the agency known for red-tagging civilians.

Early this month, United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan called on the government to dismantle the “outdated” National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to address red-tagging, or the practice of labeling individuals and organizations as fighters or supporters of the communist armed struggle.

The government, in response, rejected Khan’s recommendation to abolish NTF-ELCAC.

In a statement Monday, the CHR reaffirmed its call to its government partners to strengthen efforts to end red-tagging, which it described as “a human rights violation on its own and may lead to a multiplicity of other acts of violence which put the welfare of the general public at risk.”

“We urge the NTF-ELCAC to review its mandate and assess how it can attend to the current needs of the country,” the commission said. 

The CHR expressed readiness to provide policy advisories and training to equip NTF-ELCAC in fulfilling its mandate with a human rights-based approach. 

The commission also announced that it would launch an inquiry into red-tagging this year to deepen the understanding of the harms brought by the practice on individuals and communities. 

In November 2023, Ian Fry, the former UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, similarly called for the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC during his visit to the country.

He criticized the task force for overstepping its mandate by red-tagging individuals and groups. 

Since its establishment in 2018, officials of the NTF-ELCAC have persistently red-tagged human rights advocates, opposition lawmakers, journalists, teachers, lawyers and members of marginalized groups.

Human rights groups have warned that red-tagging leads to threats, surveillance, harassment, illegal arrest and detention or torture. In some cases, red-tagging also translates to enforced disappearances and even killings.

Violence against journalists

The CHR also echoed Khan’s call for the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) to review how they view and investigate violence against journalists. 

According to the commission, a crucial step is establishing a clear definition of “media worker” to guide investigations involving their work. It also urged PTFoMS to enhance coordination with the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies. 

“To further understand the dangers and challenges which hinder journalists from fully performing their work, it is incumbent upon the Philippine government to recognise that their duty to deliver the truth to the public comes with a heavier risk in their safety,” the CHR said. 

Khan earlier said that some initiatives by the task force were “not enough,” especially when some attacks on journalists have come from police and other authorities.

PTFoMS executive director Paul Gutierrez expressed his belief that Khan’s recommendations will be “eventually addressed” by the government.

Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in June 2022, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has documented 109 incidents of attacks and threats against media workers—a 47% increase compared to the same period under his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte. 

Red-tagging accounted for nearly a quarter of these incidents in 2023. — with report from Cristina Chi

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