Karapatan slams Tolentino’s ‘witch-hunt proposal,’ lauds Legarda’s peace call

A senator’s proposal to require government personnel to disclose relatives allegedly connected with criminal or so-called terrorist groups will only result in crackdowns on public officials, employees and their kin, a human right group said.

Reacting to Senator Francis Tolentino’s privilege speech on Tuesday, rights group Karapatan said that the legislator’s proposal will open the floodgates for possible violations on the right to due process, freedom of thought or opinion, privacy and threats to life and security and liberty of government workers and their families.

“What Sen. Tolentino is suggesting is a crackdown on officials and employees in the public sector and their relatives, based on the much-questioned, vague and arbitrary definition of terrorism under our laws,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

In his speech, Tolentino proposed amendments to the filing of Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) by public officials and employees to include relatives who may be involved in criminal and underground activities.

“I think it is right that when one enters the government to perhaps declare that you have a relative who is a member of a terrorist organization or criminal syndicate up to the fourth degree of consanguinity,” Tolentino said.

The senator’s proposal came after higher education commissioner Prospero de Vera III’s admission that an elder sister is a member of an underground revolutionary organization.

Poet Adora Faye de Vera was arrested in Quezon City last August 24. Her supporters however have only described her as a martial law survivor who suffered torture and rape in the hands of government soldiers.

Karapatan said Tolentino’s proposal is way off mark while the Senate was deliberating on government efficiency in the midst of an economic crisis.

The group said “the senator’s proposal of a witch-hunt and pointless red-tagging in the public sector workforce is a huge disservice to the public.”

“Isn’t it more important to check government officials and agencies that engage in influence peddling, graft and corruption for self-serving interests rather than make proposals on irrelevant issues?” Palabay asked.

Group lauds Legarda

Meanwhile, Karapatan lauded Senate Pro Tempore Loren Legarda’s reply to Tolentino, pointing out that having political beliefs different from the status quo does not make one a subversive or a terrorist.

“Apart from her assertion of the fact that the anti-subversion law has been repealed, what can be gleaned from Sen. Legarda’s comments is the irony in a so-called democratic state, where the prevalent practice of government officials and State security forces remains to be that of intolerance for progressive beliefs, persecution and dangerous red-tagging,” Palabay said.

Karapatan said Legarda is correct in calling for a review of the Anti-Terrorism Law and the resumption of peace talks between the Manila government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

“[T]he common goal of leaders of our country, whether we are elected in the Senate, or even working with a grassroots organization deemed subversive or Left by the government, but not really proven, can work together towards more equity, peace and authentic real reforms in the countryside,” Legarda said during Tuesday’s hearing.

Legarda added said she would like the Anti-Terror Law to be reviewed, pointing out that she voted against it at the House of Representatives. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Legarda calls for the resumption of GRP-NDFP talks

Antique governor and current senatorial candidate Loren Legarda called for the resumption of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The former three-time senator said just and lasting peace is important as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legarda added that ending poverty and pursuing socio-economic programs will benefit Filipinos and help the Philippines realize national recovery and development.

Legarda in a statement on Thursday said that the prospective Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) that is being discussed before formal negotiations stopped in 2017 contains “concrete and doable steps towards liberating the Filipino people from poverty, exploitation, and underdevelopment.”

The GRP Negotiating Panel has submitted its own draft to its counterpart which the late NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said was “surprisingly similar in many respects” to their own.

Both parties have agreed to use the NDFP version as the working draft and have already agreed to free land distribution during the third round of formal negotiations in Rome, Italy in January 2017.

GRP President Rodrigo Duterte has declared an end to the peace negotiations in June 2017, however.

Optomistic for talks resumption

Legarda said she is optimistic that both parties will hear her call.

“As an official who has maintained good working relations with the NDFP over the years, I have seen the sincerity of all sides to pursue a common objective and have witnessed their intense desire for peace and social justice. Resuming the peace talks and continuing the discussions on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), the very heart and soul of the peace negotiations, will help us find a common ground to help achieve our goal,” she added.

Legarda explained that NDFP’s proposed CASER contains provisions on various socio-economic concerns such as agrarian reform and rural development, national industrialization and economic development as well as environmental protection, rehabilitation and compensation.

The NDFP’s draft also contains proposals on the rights of the working people; promoting patriotic, progressive, and pro-people culture; recognition of ancestral lands and territories of national minorities; and ensuring economic sovereignty for national development through foreign economic and trade relations, financial, monetary and fiscal policies, and social and economic planning, she added.

Legarda said that, as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, she ensured that the national budget supported socio-economic reform agenda and authored laws on environmental protection that are part of the proposed CASER.

She also mentioned that she helped facilitate the safe releases of prisoners of war by the New People’s Army, including  General Victor Obillo, Captain Eduardo Montealto, Sergeant Alpio Lozada, Major Roberto Bernal, and Army Major Noel Buan.

“We have the same goal of addressing issues affecting Filipinos such as poverty, landlessness, lack of employment and livelihood opportunities, underemployment, lack of access to housing services, affordable health care, education and other social services, corruption, environmental degradation, among many others,” the senatorial aspirant pointed out. 

“We may have different views on how to pursue national development, but I believe we can find a common ground. Stalling the negotiations can only lead to delayed pandemic recovery and continued suffering for millions of Filipinos who were greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Legarda said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)