Lacson: Unfair to accuse Baguio's Magalong of protecting communist rebels

Angelica Y. Yang - Philstar.com
Lacson: Unfair to accuse Baguio's Magalong of protecting communist rebels
This 2021 file photo shows Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong in a press conference.
(Photo from CCD / Philippine Information Agency Cordillera Administrative Region)

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson said it was unfair of the government's anti-communist task force to accuse Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong of protecting communist rebels for ordering tarpaulins and posters accusing party-list and activist groups of being terrorists taken down in the city.

Magalong, a former top official of the Philippine National Police who has endorsed Lacson and Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III in the May elections, has been accused by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict of "betrayal" and "deceit" for barring the practice of branding activists as rebels and for meeting with a party-list that the government has labelled a communist front.

"It is very unfair to accuse Mayor Magalong of protecting the CPP/NPA/NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front)," Lacson told Philstar.com in an online exchange on Wednesday.

"He risked his life so many times when he was still an AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) officer fighting the communist rebels and urban insurgents and the worst that anyone can do is to accuse him of protecting them," Lacson, a former chief of the PNP, said.

Based on the order barring red-tagging and on photos with members of Kabataan party-list, the NTF-ELCAC called Magalong an "angel of acrid necessity who brings to us the painful message of betrayal" and said he was among "unprincipled politicians whose political careers are littered with the bodies of our children."

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Magalong is quoted in a report on state-run Philippine News Agency as saying his meeting with Kabataan party-list does not necessarily mean support for the activist group, which has one seat at the House of Representatives: "I was there to educate the kids, to empower the voters to choose the right leader." 

"Different party-lists come to my office and would want to have a picture with the mayor, that happens every day," the PNA report also quotes him as saying.

Magalong is a former head of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and served as head of the Cordillera regional police before that.

Magalong bans red-tagging

Earlier this month, Magalong ordered Baguio police to take down tarpulins and other materials in public spaces branding Baguio activists and others as NPA supporters or members. 

According to a Yahoo! News report, Magalong met with activists and members of the community and acknowledged that the practice robs "people of their dignity, especially if (actions) are designed to destroy the reputation of people."

"If you don’t feel safe in Baguio, that means I have problems as the chief executive," the mayor also said.

"Banning red tagging is a sound policy of a [Local Government Unit] executive as long as it is clearly defined and explained to his constituents," Lacson said Wednesday.

Linking activist groups to the communist armed struggle, better known as red-tagging, is commonly used by government agencies and officials to undermine environmentalists, human rights and journalists, regardless of their ideologies. 

The UN Human Rights Office, the Commission on Human Rights and several rights advocates said red-tagging has been institutionalized in the Philippines, flagging the practice as dangerous. 

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Lacson earlier expressed concern that another presidential bet might form a coalition government with the CPP, NPA and NDF if they win, in response to allegations raised by Rep. Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla (Cavite). 

Remulla made the claim over radio DZRH without naming Vice President Leni Robredo but referring to her campaign color and political affiliations. He alleged that "a lot of students" present at a rally in General Trias, Cavite "looked like activists" and that they seemed to be "from the Left."

Later on, Lacson drew flak online for his statement and clarified that he "has never red-tagged anybody."

"I was simply warning those concerned to be wary of a possible coalition government with a movement whose sole objective is to seize power," he said in a tweet on March 7. 

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