Makabayan to fight poll disqualification bid
MANILA, Philippines — Progressive lawmakers on Thursday said they would resist a plan by the government’s anti-insurgency task force to disqualify them from participating in future elections for allegedly serving as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Tuesday said the government would move to disqualify the lawmakers because they “do not believe in condemning the NPA (New People’s Army) for its violent actions.”
“The elections are in 2022, but you can be sure that we will go toward that direction as soon as possible,” said Esperon, who is also vice chair of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac).
The Makabayan bloc, composed of six lawmakers from Bayan Muna, Gabriela, ACT Teachers and Kabataan, had been red-tagged, or branded as communists or enemies of the state, by the NTF-Elcac and by President Duterte himself.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the group would challenge any disqualification case filed against them in the proper forum.
Since the Arroyo administration, the government has not succeeded in disqualifying the Makabayan party list groups from taking part in elections because they have proven their qualifications as legitimate political parties, Zarate said.
“Now, under Duterte, we are again facing the same threats. But we will not be cowed because we know that we are on the side of our marginalized peoples,” he said.
20-year track record
ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said Makabayan’s 20-year legislative track record “will expose the truth” about the bloc’s legitimacy.
Zarate also indicated that failure to condemn the armed struggle was a baseless ground for any criminal action against Makabayan, saying it was not a crime.
“The media report quoting Secretary Harry Roque asking us to renounce our belief that armed struggle is a legitimate option of the people and implying that because we do not condemn it means we are endorsing it is very disturbing because it attacks our constitutional right to freedom of thought and belief while falsely imputing a crime on us for ‘endorsing’ armed struggle,’” he said.
Zarate said Makabayan was working for social reforms through elections and legislation, but that “as a matter of principle, we cannot condemn the people’s option to armed struggle because we believe that it is a legitimate option of the people when faced with a foreign invader, a tyrant or a dictator such as Marcos or Idi Amin.”
“More importantly, their demands such as addressing poverty, injustice and other social ills which even the Philippine government recognizes as the root causes of rebellion in the country, are legitimate demands,” he added.
Zarate said the belief in armed struggle was a political right protected by the Constitution.
“People who refuse to condemn the Edsa uprising or coups against Ferdinand Marcos or Gloria Arroyo, for example, cannot be imprisoned based on their belief that the demands of these uprisings are legitimate and that Marcos and Arroyo are illegitimate presidents,” he said.
“It is not proof that because they do not condemn, they are involved or are ‘fronts’ of these uprisings,” he added.
Putting it another way, Neri Colmenares a former Bayan Muna representative and the party list chair, said the failure of some people to condemn Duterte’s policy of giving up the country’s territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea to China “does not necessarily mean these people are endorsing China’s transgression in the Philippines.”
“Red-tagging is intended to stifle dissent and threaten the lives of the victims,” Colmenares said.
Makabayan, its allied organizations and other administration critics say that branding them as “Red,” or enemies of the state, was meant to harass and intimidate them and has resulted in the assassination of several of their members and supporters.
‘Statement of fact’
But Roque disagreed that “Red-tagging the innocent is dangerous.”
The presidential spokesperson said in a press briefing that the President did not Red-tag but was merely stating the truth when he identified the militant groups as communist fronts. “It’s a statement of fact and not Red-tagging,” he said.
Asked to clarify why he said Red-tagging was not dangerous for the “innocent,” he cited Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s position of “no evidence, no talk.”
Following a backlash from allegations from several government and military officials linking popular celebrities to the communist movement, Lorenzana directed members of security forces to shut up if they did not have evidence linking personalities to the insurgency.
Roque earlier said membership in the communist party was not illegal, referring to the 1992 repeal of the antisubversion law, but that the CPP could not be separated from the NPA, which had attacked and killed civilians and soldiers.
Castro said the NTF-Elcac’s Red-tagging also revealed the administration’s “electoral agenda, one that favors the candidates to be fielded by the Duterte regime.”
“They have now launched a negative campaign—as early as a year before the start of the election season and using public funds and resources—against the Makabayan bloc and to the opposition, which the Makabayan and the progressive group will support,” Castro said.
Colmenares said “the series of Red-tagging is actually to instill fear on Makabayan and other critics to stifle dissent and also as a prelude to disqualification” of the Makabayan bloc.
He said the NTF-Elcac had no evidence to link them to the CPP and its armed wing, the NPA, so it would resort to filing cases of “disqualification, proscription and designation because these administrative proceedings require lower quantum of evidence.”
“They also want to disable Makabayan’s electoral machinery that will campaign against the administration’s presidential candidate in 2022, because they know we will campaign hard for the opposition,” he said. —WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA
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