Rights group files raps vs anti-red task force
MANILA, Philippines — The human rights organization Karapatan on Friday accused ranking officers of the government’s anti-insurgency task force of violating a 2009 law covering crimes against humanity for labeling the group as a front for communist rebels which had led to the killing of several of its members.
In a complaint filed in the Office of the Ombudsman, Karapatan said the officers of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) should be held criminally and administratively liable for their “persistent, relentless and malicious Red-tagging and vilification” of the group.
It said that Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., as well as staunch Duterte supporters Lorraine Badoy and Mocha Uson violated the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity.
Esperon is President Rodrigo Duterte’s national security adviser and vice-chair of the NTF-Elcac and Parlade is its spokesperson.
Communications Undersecretary Badoy is a member of the task force and Uson is deputy administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and a blogger who uses her platform to link Karapatan to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), according to Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general.
The complaint alleged that the respondents specifically committed crimes against humanity for persecuting civilians. This violation carries the administrative liability of gross misconduct, according to the complaint.
The complaint was filed on the second anniversary of the creation of the NTF-Elcac through Executive Order No. 70 signed by the President.
According to Palabay, Red-tagging, or the branding of a person or a group as part of the communist insurgency or an enemy of the state, violated the “principle of distinction” under international humanitarian law.
The baseless branding of individuals as communists converts their status from civilians to armed combatants, which subjects them to attacks by state forces and their “proxies,” the complaint said.
Karapatan enumerated a number of civilians who have been Red-tagged prior to their abduction or killing.
The list included Zara Alvarez, a former education director of Karapatan, who was gunned down last August in Bacolod City. The Commission on Human Rights had earlier cited reports that Alvarez was on a list of people that the Department of Justice wanted to tag as terrorists but was later removed.
Another victim was Karapatan lawyer Benjamin Ramos, who represented farmers in Negros Occidental. He was shot dead in November 2018 just weeks after assisting the families of nine farmers who were massacred in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental. His family said he was branded as a leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) by the military prior to his killing.
Aside from Karapatan, the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives and its allied organizations, including Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), had also been Red-tagged.
“This blatant disregard of the principle of distinction resulting in the deaths of civilians constitutes the war crime,” the complaint said, citing the law’s provision punishing anyone for “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population … or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.”
It said Esperon and the others were liable either as superior or commander, or for performing or ordering, soliciting, inducing, or tolerating “the commission of a war crime.”
Esperon had no immediate comment on the complaint, saying he hasn’t seen it. But he said that during a recent Senate inquiry on Red-tagging, former rebel cadres “have pointed to the Makabayan representatives as being members of the CPP and are in full support of the NPA.”
“I must say that I am proud to inform the public that the Makabayan bloc as well as Karapatan do not condemn the violent acts of the NPA nor do they consider the NPA as enemies of the state,” he said.
Esperon also slammed Makabayan and other “front organizations” for denying any responsibility for the decision of their members to join the NPA.
“This is the height of irresponsibility as these front organizations have been responsible for the radicalization of their members. That after radicalization, many of their members join the NPA,” he said.
Badoy said the complaint will “certainly not stop us from defending and protecting the Filipino people from this malevolent terrorist group and ending the 52-year reign of terror” of the CPP-NPA.
Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, one of the Makabayan party-list members, said failure to condemn the NPA was not a crime in the same way that supporters of the President who do not condemn Chinese encroachment in the West Philippine Sea could not be accused of supporting China’s actions.
He said Makabayan was working for social reforms through elections and legislation, and would fight a plan by the NTF-Elcac to keep out of future polls.
Palabay said their lawyers noted that Philippine laws provide “expansive protection against the persecution of the fundamental rights,” and that even the Constitution protects personal security.
On the same day that Karapatan filed its complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman in Quezon City, plainclothes officers who identified themselves as members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group arrested a labor union organizer in Mexico town, Pampanga province.
The Central Luzon regional police office confirmed the arrest of Jose Bernardino, a member of the Workers’ Alliance and Bayan, but did not give details. The Inquirer has learned that he carried a P4-million bounty.
The Central Luzon regional police confirmed his arrest but declined to give details.
Activist groups said the arrest warrant served on Bernardino was “recycled” from an arrest made in 2006 based on a charge of illegal possession of explosives.
Bernardino was arrested that year together with six leaders of the transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (Piston).
Other militant groups said the series of arrests of activists “only aims to silence and criminalize dissent.”
“Arrest and repression of labor rights advocates should not be used to cover up for the government’s negligence,” the Workers’ Right Watch said in a statement. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND TONETTE OREJAS
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.