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)

VP Robredo blames Duterte’s ‘kill’ rant for massacre

Vice President Leni Robredo blamed President Rodrigo Duterte’s “finish them off” and “ignore human rights” rant for the massacre of nine civilians last Sunday, March 7.

In a statement, Robredo said she condemns the massacre she likened to the many innocents killed by the Duterte administration.

“There is no other way to describe this: it was a massacre,” Robredo said.

The Vice President noted that the incident came just two days after Duterte himself ordered the police and the military to kill suspected communists in a rant before the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in Cagayan de Oro City last frint.

“This is the painful truth: The killing of Filipinos goes unabated,” Robredo said in Filipino.

“The Filipino people deserve better than this murderous regime,” she added.

Churh groups demand justice

Meanwhile, church groups also condemned the massacre and called on Duterte to choose the rule of law over militarization.

In separate statements, the Council of the Laity of the Philippines (CLP) and Caritas Philippines, both groups under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, called for justice.

“The blood of these fellow Filipinos are literally crying for justice as they are wiped-off from the floor tiles of their homes,” CLP, through its president Rouquel Ponte, said.

“We call on peace-loving Filipinos to make strong statements of condemnation against these brutal and organized atrocities,” it added.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the ‘Bloody Sunday initiated by the members of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army,” Caritas for its part said.

Caritas called on the Supreme Court to fast-track the ongoing discussions and review of the controversial Anti-Terror Act the law’s opponents say emboldens the unnecessary use of force “which only victimizes the poor and the vulnerable. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Anti-terrorism measure fuels Duterte’s tyranny, Catholic Church says

The social action arm of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines expressed opposition to the anti-terrorism bill passed by Congress this week, saying the measure threatens the very values of freedom, respect, justice and compassion.

In a statement Saturday, June 6, Caritas Philippines said it strongly condemns what it calls blatant manoeuvring of the legislative processes in the passage of the prospective Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 by both houses of Congress.

Caritas said the measure aims to criminalize or to arbitrarily brand as terrorists those perceived to be opposing the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“We denounce the obvious circumvention of the democratic processes just to obey and please the self-interests of the legislators and the autocratic rule of the president,” the statement reads.

Aimed to replace the Human Security Act of 2007, the measure awaits Duterte’s signature to become law .

Caritas said the new anti-terror bill targets activists, many of whom suffer from red-baiting by government officials and the military.

“We cannot let this happen. This not only intolerable, this is inhuman, unjust and unlawful. Thus we urge everyone to register opposition against the bill which to our firm belief will further re-enforce tyranny and totalitarianism,” Caritas said.

Earlier, several bishops expressed opposition to the measure that allows warrantless arrests and detention without charges for up to 24 days.

Caritas said its condemnation of the measure is in adherence, defense and protection of the rights and welfare of the Filipino people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Human rights defenders, activists, lawyers groups, journalists and artists said they will question the measure’s constitutionality even before it is signed into law by the president. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)