Leftist solons retaliate, call Duterte incompetent

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    MEMBERS of the left-leaning Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives yesterday rejected President Duterte’s claim that they are part of a grand communist conspiracy to bring down government, saying the accusation is nothing but another smokescreen to hide his incompetence and divert the people’s attention.

    “Itong lahat ay sa tingin namin ay pagtatakip lamang sa incompetence at sa malubhang problema pa rin sa ating bayan ngayon, at pilit kaming pinipilayan to silence us especially in our active role bilang mga mambabatas sa loob ng Kongreso. (All of these is just a cover-up for incompetence and the sorry state of the country, so they are trying hard to cripple and silence us, especially in our role as lawmakers in Congress),” said Rep. Carlos Zarate of the party-list group Bayan Muna.

    President Duterte, during his public address on Monday night, said Makabayan and militant groups Bayan and Gabriela, among others, are

    “communists” who are fighting with the government. He said his government is not red-tagging the left-leaning groups but is directly “identifying” them as those involved in a grand conspiracy to topple the government and grab power. He said Zarate is part of the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front and a “ co-conspirator.”

    Zarate categorically denied anew that the Makabayan bloc is a legislative front of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDF), insisting its members are duly-elected representatives of legitimate party-list organizations.

    He said sharing the same advocacies as the underground movement does not necessarily make the Makabayan solons members of the CPP-NPA-NDF, especially since they do not bear arms, unlike communist guerrillas.

    “Kung sabihin nila na nananawagan sila ng land reform, agrarian reform at kami ay nananawagan din, ipso facto, kami ay mga komunista na rin, kami ay miyembro na agad ng Communist Party of the Philippines? (If we’re calling for land reform, agrarian reform, ipso facto, we’re also communists? That we’re members of the Communist Party of the Philippines?),” he said.

    Rep. Ferdinand Gaite, also of Bayan Muna, said “this grand conspiracy exists only in the President’s head.”

    “Walang ganun, sir (Nothing of the sort, sir) but we cannot deny that there is great dissatisfaction among the people especially after their perceived sluggish efforts to assist the typhoon victims, the prolonged lockdown and continuing pandemic, the high unemployment rate and bad economy, and many other things that are making the lives of ordinary Filipinos harder,” he said.

    Gaite said the President is making up “ghosts” to hide his failures as a leader. Had he been an effective one, then there would have been no need to be insecure of his administration’s stability, he added.

    “Is this the new version of their `Red October’ ouster conspiracy hoax? Every time the regime is caught in issues of its own making, they hatch this kind of chilling propaganda to legitimize red-tagging and subsequent attacks against their critics,” he said.

    Gaite said like in 2018 when public anger was “brimming” over allegations that the Duterte family is involved in large-scale drug operations, the government “released this poorly conjured `Oust Duterte Matrix’ and tagged key figures in the opposition, progressive organizations, media personalities, university students, and a bunch of Duterte’s critics.”

    But nothing happened, he said.

    ACT party-list Rep. France Castro said Duterte should not be taken seriously, likening the trash-talking Chief Executive to a “noisy drunk.”

    Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago dismissed Duterte’s statements as “trying too hard” to tarnish their reputation as lawmakers.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said being a member of a communist group is not a crime but the CPP is associated with the NPA which had committed crimes such as “rebellion, taking up of arms against the government, killing civilians and soldiers.”

    The NPA is the CPP’s armed wing.

    Roque also the CPP and its legal fronts can be recognized legally “but you have to renounce the use of arms.”

    `CO-CONSPIRATORS’

    President Duterte on Monday night said those who are “friends with the NPA” are “co-conspirators.”

    “Itong mga legal fronts ng komunista, lahat iyan, Makabayan, Bayan, they are all legal fronts, Gabriela … We are not red-tagging you. We are identifying you as members in a grand conspiracy comprising all the legal fronts that you have organized (These are the legal fronts of communists, all of them, Makabayan, Bayan, they are all legal fronts, Gabriela…We are not red-tagging you. We are identifying you as members in a grand conspiracy comprising all the legal fronts that you have organized),” he said.

    Duterte said these groups are not even fighting for an ideology but simply engaging in war.

    He lamented that indigenous communities such as the Lumads suffer the most from communist atrocities, and that the communists are recruiting young “dreamers,” including Jevilyn Cullamat, daughter of Bayan Mun Rep Eufemia Cullamat who was killed in a clash between soldiers and NPA rebels over the weekend in Surigao del Sur.

    Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., commander of the AFP’s Southern Luzon Command based in Lucena City and concurrent spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, accused the Makabayan bloc of resorting to propaganda to discredit soldiers who killed Jevilyn Cullamat.

    Makabayan bloc lawmakers on Monday accused the military of desecrating Jevilyn’s remains by making public a picture that showed 11 soldiers posing with Cullamat’s body and the recovered firearms.

    Parlade said soldiers are not in the business of desecrating remains of rebels killed in skirmishes.

    He noted Cullamat’s elder brother, Jesryn, thanked the military for “respecting” his sister’s remains.

    1Lt. Krisjuper Andreo Punzalan, 3rd Special Forces Battalion civil military operations officer, said Jesryn claimed the remains of his sister last Sunday at an Army camp in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

    “He (Jesryn) was thankful that we brought down the body of his sister, that we retrieved the body of his sister. Otherwise, they won’t see her remains, they would not know what happened to her because what the NPAs usually do is they just bury their dead without informing their family,” he said.

    Parlade said it is the NPA which has desecrated remains, even of its own members who are left behind or dumped in cliffs after they die in encounters with soldiers. — With Jocelyn Montemayor and Victor Reyes