Scenario building: Violence in the May 9 elections?

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Incoherent as usual, but unusually brief, was President Duterte’s remark a week ago: He warned that, per an intelligence report, communist insurgents are conniving with the political opposition to disrupt the May 9 elections.

The immediate reactions were strongly critical. Yet the NTF-ELCAC spokesperson’s ensuing statement outrightly accused Vice President Leni Robredo, the opposition’s presidential candidate, of trucking with the CPP-NPA. It sparked outrage and condemnations all over.

Here’s how PhilSTAR quoted the President as saying:

“What I really am afraid of is the report of the intelligence community … It seems there’s a grouping of the communists, the yellows and another group… Well, the communist [party] is already a terrorist organization. They (government) are watching for that kind of situation… That what I said could disrupt because they have these working relations now with the yellows and the election is the objective really.”

Duterte made the remark during a taped interview with controversial pastor Apollo Quiboloy, his close friend and supposed adviser. (The “yellows” Duterte mentioned pertains to the opposition Liberal Party, of which Robredo is the chairperson. But she’s not running under its banner.)

Earlier, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, another presidential candidate, and Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla had claimed that Robredo’s campaign rally in the province was “infiltrated” by communists. Lacson further claimed that a “coalition government” was being worked on between Robredo and the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Robredo categorically denied both claims. The red-tagging against her, she emphasized in a press conference on Monday, had absolutely no basis.

Also on Monday, the perennially red-tagged Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives advised Duterte to stop being a rumor-monger and red-tagger, and instead devote his last few months in office to mitigate the impacts of oil price hikes. The group urged Speaker Lord Allan Velasco to ask the President to call a special session for Congress to pass measures aimed at abating the economic crisis.

House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate wryly noted that the administration had downplayed the Robredo campaign as weak, “but they try to destroy the united front of the people coming from different sectors – including the Left, Center, and Right” – rallying behind the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem. His party colleague, Rep. Ferdinand Gaite, described the accusation against Robredo as a “Marcosian” tactic.

At the University of the Philippines, the progressive faculty formation Contend warned that the supposed intelligence report was a “flimsy excuse for a brewing crackdown on the broad political opposition led by VP Leni Robredo and Sen. Kiko Pangilinan and a diverse array of civil society democratic forces.” The “massive and energetic turnout in one opposition political rally after another,” they added, “reveals the electrifying momentum of Filipinos for the Leni-Kiko tandem as well as their disapproval of the extension of Duterte’s rule and the restoration of the Marcoses in Malacañang.”

Contend assailed the reported harassment of members of the Anakpawis urban poor party-list in Cavite following the red-tagging statements of Lacson and Remulla. “Under Duterte, much like the dark years of martial law under Marcos,” they said, “manufactured accusations of communist infiltration have become preposterous because anyone and anything that threatens the interests of the Dutertes and the Marcoses are tagged as communistic and terroristic.”

Alarmed by reports of military and police intervention in the electoral campaign, Contend reminded the AFP and the PNP to “maintain their neutrality, avoid partisanship and not allow themselves to be used by the Duterte camp to intervene in a civilian democratic exercise in the guise of an anti-communist crusade.”

We are reminded that the 1987 Constitution states, in Article XVI, Section 5(3): “The armed forces shall be insulated from partisan politics. No member of the military shall engage directly or indirectly in any partisan political activity, except to vote.”

From her detention cell at Camp Crame, Sen. Leila de Lima, who is barred from campaigning for reelection outside prison, said in a handwritten “dispatch” Tuesday:

“The NTF-ELCAC and its mouthpiece… should stop insulting the intelligence of the Filipino people when it uses the age-old trick of red-tagging on Vice President Leni’s camp. This is a desperate attempt at bad propaganda to undermine the Kakampink revolution.”

De Lima added that the NTF-ELCAC has no right to speak of the pain and suffering of the Filipinos “because for six years it served as a rabid enabler of the atrocities that we have been subjected to as a people. What is clear is that the Filipino people are rallying together under the pink banner to ensure that this reign of terror will no longer persist.”

Red-tagging, the senator proposed, “should be criminalized to sanction those who continue to incite violence against government critics and the opposition.” She challenged the NTF-ELCAC: “Puro kayo red-tag. Accuse under oath, para magkaalaman na.”

Groups outraged by the intensified calumnies, as well as lawyers’ organizations, are studying how to effectively push back. On the other hand, NTF-ELCAC vice chairperson Hermogenes Esperon Jr. presses the Department of Justice to probe “organizations associated with communist rebels.”

But last Wednesday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, speaking as a member of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC, the implementing body of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020), stated:

“We do not have sufficient factual basis at this time to initiate an investigation. There’s nothing unlawful for any groups associated with the CPP-NPA to support any political party or individual in the forthcoming elections.” Then he added:

“It is when they commit acts of violence to sow terror and destabilize public order in the guise of exercising their political rights that will prompt the Anti-Terrorism Council to take action.”

Take note: The intelligence community’s top honcho, who presumably had cleared the report given to Duterte, is also the head of the ATC secretariat. Can you imagine what probable scenario may be contrived in the May elections that would justify the ATC “taking action,” as Guevara stated?

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