Lawmakers accuse DND, AFP of electioneering
MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives on Wednesday brought electioneering charges against the military for tagging their party-list groups as communist fronts.
In a complaint filed with the Commission on Elections (Comelec), senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares and seven party-list members of the House accused the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines of not only engaging in partisan political activities but also urging the public not to vote for candidates of the coalition.
The complaint stemmed from a Facebook post of the military’s Civil Relations Service (CRS) that quoted “anticommunist group” Liga Independencia Pilipinas’ spokesperson Dario Bolivar as calling on the public to reject the candidates of the party-list groups in the Makabayan bloc as the groups were fronts for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the House.
“By labeling the Makabayan party-lists as ‘CPP-NPA-NDF House fronts,’ and telling the public to ‘junk CPP-NPA-NDF House fronts,’ the respondents, who are military officials, employees of the government and heads of the military—an institution constitutionally mandated to be nonpartisan—are campaigning against the candidates of the Makabayan coalition,” the lawmakers said in their complaint.
Apart from Colmenares, who is a former Bayan Muna representative, those who brought the complaint were ACT Teachers Representatives France Castro and Antonio Tinio, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Gabriela Representatives Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago.
Named respondents were Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana; the military chief of staff, Gen. Benjamin Madrigal; the chief of the CRS, Maj. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin; and “any official or employee under [the officers’] orders who are responsible” for the Facebook post.
According to the complainants, top military officials have been subjecting them to “Red-baiting” and “maliciously” tagging them as “legal fronts” of the communist movement.
There was no immediate comment from the military and the defense department on Wednesday.
“If we look closely, no matter who sits in Malacañang, the Makabayan bloc does not have any program to support the incumbent. They just oppose whoever (sic) administration is in power,” the complainants said, quoting the military post.
They said the post called on voters not to allow the return of any representative of the Makabayan bloc’s party-list groups to the House or their election to the Senate.
Under Comelec rules, public officers and employees, including the military, are prohibited from directly or indirectly intervening in electoral campaigns or engaging in partisan political activity, except voting or preserving public order.
Violation of the rule is an election offense, which carries a penalty of imprisonment of up to six years, removal of the right to vote, and disqualification from holding public office.
Castro said on Wednesday that the post was intended to vilify the bloc’s candidates and “sabotage the campaign and election of the Makabayan [to] the House and the Senate with the dirty and dangerous tactic of Red-baiting.”
“What we are fighting for are the rights of the people, that they may have a voice in Congress,” he said.
In their complaint, the lawmakers said the post was especially alarming, a hindrance to their campaign, and a threat to the safety of their campaign staff.
In a separate statement, Gabriela urged the Comelec to investigate the links of Liga Independencia Pilipina to the military and determine if public funds were used to support the group.
‘Military legal front’
“It may be the [military] that uses the Liga as its legal front after all,” Gabriela Representative De Jesus said.
She said the “massive negative campaigning” against Gabriela and other Makabayan bloc candidates showed the Duterte administration’s “desperation to kick out the genuine opposition in Congress” in order to install a “full-blown dictatorship.”
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