Rights defenders: Time to abolish NTF-ELCAC after SC ruling on red-tagging

Progressive groups pressed their demand for the abolition of the government’s anti-insurgency agency following the Supreme Court’s (SC) ruling defining the practice of red-tagging as a threat to a victim’s life, liberty and security.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) and Karapatan said it is time for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to abolish the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as government’s most notorious red-tagger.

Speaking as a target and victim of NTF-ELCAC’s “malicious and unrelenting red-tagging,” BAYAN chairperson emerita Dr. Carol Araullo said she welcomes the SC’s “clear, unequivocal legal and morally binding ruling” on the practice.

“Finally there is no hiding behind the deceptive defense that no law exists defining and proscribing the evil practice as a means by notorious red-taggers using official and other platforms to evade responsibility for their acts,” Araullo said.

“It should also provide a warning to their unthinking followers, especially on social media, who parrot their line and contribute to what amounts to the public lynching of their targets,” she added.

In a ruling released last May 8, the high court said it grants the petition of former Bayan Muna Representative Siegfred Deduro for a writ of amparo based on being repeatedly red-tagged by the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and other suspected government agents.

READ: Red-tagging threatens a person’s right to life, SC declares

Araullo for her part has filed a Php2 million damage suit last July against former NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Dr. Lorraine Badoy-Partosa at the Office of the Ombudsman for her “incessant and wanton red-tagging.”

BAYAN chairperson emerita Dr. Carol Araullo at the filing of her complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman last July 2023. (Altermidya photo)

The veteran activist describes NTF-ELCAC as a “malevolent creation by the (Rodrigo) Duterte administration and retained by the Marcos Jr.”

Araullo said she calls on as many of those who have been maligned by the task force as “communist-terrorists” and have suffered its negative effects on their safety, health, well being and ability to continue unhampered in their work as social activists and human rights defenders, to file the appropriate charges against the most notorious red-taggers as a form of legal push back.

“I also demand accountability from the top officials of the NTF-ELCAC. This ruling should lead to the abolition of this (NTF-ELCAC) abomination,” she said.

‘Important decision’

Human rights group Karapatan also welcomed SC’s “important decision,” particularly the high court’s citation on the dangers of red-tagging.

“We strongly demand justice for all victims of red-tagging and all human rights and international humanitarian violations. We denounce and call for the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC, as the most notorious red-tagging machinery of the Marcos-Duterte administrations,” the group said in a statement.

Karapatan said the Marcos administration has continued the Duterte regime’s policy on red-tagging since its own National Security Policy, implemented by the NTF-ELCAC, “contains language institutionalizing red-tagging as policy of the current regime.”

“These dangerous practices of State security forces have long threatened the lives, security and liberty of scores of human rights activists, political dissenters and ordinary Filipinos – many of them have been victims of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, illegal or arbitrary arrests and detention and many other forms of grave human rights violations, including Karapatan human rights workers,” the group explained.

The group also accuses the NTF-ELCAC and its functionaries of repeatedly blocking all efforts to push for the enactment of proposed legislation criminalizing red-tagging and protecting human rights defenders.

READ: CHR tells world of red-tagging, misuse of counter-terror measures

Karapatan also pointed out that numerous United Nations human rights mechanisms – from UN Special Rapporteurs Philip Alston, Agnes Callamard, Michel Forst, Mary Lawlor, Clement Voule, Ian Fry, Irene Khan and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet – have independently observed and recommended that red tagging should stop.

“But the hubris of Marcos Jr. and Duterte’s security forces, especially led by (NTF-ELCAC), have facilitated not only (its) rampant and unmitigated fabrication of lies in attempts to quell dissent, but have also driven the rampant and unmitigated attacks on individuals and organizations,” Karapatan said.

‘Game changer’

Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ humanitarian arm Caritas Philippines called the SC ruling a “game changer” for Filipino human rights defenders.

“This decision is a victory for justice and a crucial step for a safer Philippines. Red-tagging has instilled fear and silenced dissent for far too long. The Supreme Court’s ruling sends a clear message that such tactics will not be tolerated,” Caritas Philippines President Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo said last Thursday.

Caritas Philippines Vice President Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, himself a red-tagging target, said the ruling is a vindication for victims like him.

READ: More than a tale of two bishops

“Red-tagging creates a climate of fear and intimidation. In my own diocese of San Carlos, I’ve seen how it can discourage people from speaking out on issues affecting the marginalized,” Alminaza said

“The Court’s decision is a vital step towards protecting Filipinos who advocate for peace and justice,” the prelate added.

“This ruling offers a glimmer of hope and a chance for healing. We urge those who have been red-tagged to seek support and know that they are not alone,” he said.

Caritas Philippines urged the government and the military to uphold the Supreme Court’s decision and ensure the safety of all Filipinos, regardless of their political beliefs,” Bishop Bagaforo concluded. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)