Parlade: Senators ‘stupid’ if they defund task force
Who’s stupid, the government agency that’s doing its job or the senators who approved the budget for it?
An Army general says it is the senators.
Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., the spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), was responding to criticisms that they were Red-tagging organizers of community pantries, the citizens’ food aid movement spreading across the country.
The task force’s Facebook page shared content linking the community pantries to communist rebels.
“General Parlade and company should stop bothering all these people,” Sen. Richard Gordon said in an interview with CNN Philippines. “I think General Parlade should go back to the military instead of concentrating on harassing our people with Red-tagging accusations.”
“Why are they focusing on the people who are helping others and displaying the nation’s wonderful bayanihan spirit? I think it’s imbecilic. I think it’s stupid and shameful,” said Gordon, chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights.
Parlade said he and the task force were just doing their job of looking into the background of the organizers of the community pantries, especially after they received reports that some were spreading antigovernment propaganda.
“So it’s not fair to say, Senator Gordon, I’m sorry, but it’s not fair [to say] that what we’re doing is stupid. No. We’re trained to make sure that this program, community pantries, [are safe].” Parlade said in a separate interview with CNN.
‘Who signed the law?’
The general, who is chief of the military’s Southern Luzon Command, also lamented a plan by some senators to defund the NTF-Elcac.
“But who signed that law?” he said. “Who signed off on the appropriations for the NTF-Elcac? Didn’t the senators?”
The senators approved the government’s proposed P19-billion budget for the task force this year. A major chunk of the money, P16 billion, was appropriated for development projects for 800 villages which had been “freed” of communist rebel influence.
“Do they want to remove that [budget] or did they not understand the law they signed? So I think that’s unfair what these senators are saying … and I’m telling you they are the ones who are stupid if they want to take back the funds,” he said. “They signed off on that law to be of service, continue government programs for the poor, and then they’ll defund it?”
He said the military and the task force were supporting the community pantries “but we should be watchful because some are exploiting the situation to sow anger against the government.”
Government critics have said that the emergence of community pantries was proof that President Duterte’s administration wasn’t doing enough to help ordinary citizens cope with hunger during the pandemic.
‘Satan’ gets involved
Parlade was widely denounced for likening Ana Patricia Non, the 26-year-old small business owner who started the community pantries, to Satan.
“You know, that is only one person, isn’t it? Ana Patricia, isn’t it? Same with Satan. Satan gave the apple to Eve. That is how it started,” he said in an interview with OneNews on Tuesday.
He walked back on his statement on Thursday, blaming the media for misinterpreting what he said. “In fact, I said, I appreciate what Ana is doing and the public can see what she’s doing is good.”
In a tweet, Gordon said what Parlade was doing was a “violation of freedom of expression, freedom of the people to express themselves and the right of the people to redress from grievances.”
Senators who spoke on the task force’s actions on Thursday did not appear united on defunding the NTF-Elcac, but all agreed that Parlade must go.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said discussions to defund NTF-Elcac followed the executive department’s refusal to dismiss the general.
But defunding could be done as a last recourse as the NTF-Elcac was a “good program,” he said.
“Defunding it would give back the gains of the government to the rebels. We should not be hasty in blaming a good program because of irresponsible statements from some officials,” he said.
He said both Parlade and Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, another anticommunist advocate in the task force, should be “defanged.”
Pork in disguise
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon recalled that he had objected to the NTF-Elcac budget last year, saying it was a lump sum pork barrel from Malacañang disguised as anti-insurgency funds.
He said the President could still realign its budget to augment the government’s cash aid program and not wait for 2022 budget debates to defund the task force.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on national defense and security, also was dismayed that Malacañang ignored the senators’ recommendation to remove Parlade.
“Thus, I am not sure if I will still defend their budget this year with the same tenacity as I did the previous years—especially if the NTF-Elcac spokesperson continues to threaten to affect its mission with uncalled-for statements,” he said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros also backed calls to defund the NTF-Elcac, saying it had shown that it was undeserving of such a huge funding when it targeted organizers of community pantries.
Sen. Joel Villanueva, chair of the Senate committee on labor, said actions by the task force were “frustrating, to say the least.”
“They have been engaging in witch-hunting, in Red-tagging, and it has become the wild wild West,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Grace Poe warned that the Senate would be forced to defund the task force if the executive department does not remove Parlade.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian also chided Parlade for making “baseless allegations.”
“The community pantries sprouting all over the country is the only piece of good news that we have seen especially under this almost never-ending pandemic,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Malacañang did not support the defunding of the task force but acknowledged calls to remove Parlade.
He told reporters he would speak with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana about the general.
“[I]t is no secret that there have been instances when Lorenzana had asked Parlade to be careful with his declarations,” Roque said.
He maintained that Duterte, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Philippine National Police support the community pantries.
“Let a thousand community pantries bloom,” Roque said.
—WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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