THE Armed Forces yesterday said it is not going to recommend to President Duterte the declaration of a ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army for the Yuletide season.
Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces spokesman, said the communists have violated past ceasefires, showing their “incapacity for sincerity.”
“The AFP, wishing and longing for a peaceful yuletide season for the Filipino people notwithstanding, will not recommend to the Commander-in-Chief a holiday ceasefire with the communist terrorist Group,” said Arevalo.
Last year, President Duterte declared a Christmas truce with the communists, effective December 24 to January 7, despite the recommendation of the defense and military establishments not to declare one.
The CPP-NPA reciprocated.
The military’s position comes amid alleged “red-tagging” by government. President Duterte early this week named party-list and other groups, particularly those belonging to the Makabayan bloc at the House Representatives, that he said are communist front organizations.
The position also comes after the arrest of arrested of a daughter of the late Randall Echanis, who acted as consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the communist group’s political umbrella, in Cagayan province on Wednesday.
At the House, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman (Liberal Party) accused the military of stepping up its red-tagging of militant legislators and outspoken celebrities to secure more funds.
The opposition leader said red-tagging appears to be relentlessly pursued by military officials to justify the retention of the recently formed National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which has a huge budgetary outlay of close to P20 billion and has been labeled as the military’s “pork barrel.”
“The surge of red-tagging against progressive legislators and outspoken celebrities during the current budget season is calculated to maintain and secure more funds for the military’s campaign against perceived insurgents and terrorists,” he said.
Arevalo said the military’s stance against a truce during the holiday season was a result of NPA violations of ceasefires traditionally declared during the Christmas season.
He said the NPA attacked and killing soldiers “on humanitarian and peace and development missions,” continued their extortion activities, and committed crimes like murder and arson.
He also said the communists engage in peace talks “only to give themselves the chance to regroup, refurbish, recruit new members, and recoup their losses.”
Arevalo noted a pronouncement by former National Democratic Front of the Philippines chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni that they are pushing for peace negotiators just to advance their armed struggle.
“They broker peace covenants as a means to an end which is to overthrow government,” said Arevalo.
In November 2017, Duterte issued a proclamation terminating talks with the communists. In March last year, the President said he was permanently ending talks with the communists.
“And with these many hard lessons of the past, we will not allow them to trample upon our people’s bona fide desire for peace, not this holiday season, not until we have decisively defeated this menace to society,” said Arevalo.
Nevertheless, Arevalo said, the military will respect any decision the President will make as to a Christmas truce.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte will “give a lot of weight” to the military’s recommendation.
Lagman said the surge in red-tagging is reminiscent of the military’s “foisting the paranoia of ‘budgetary Huks’ during the decades covering the 1950s to 1960s to dramatize the need for more allocations to subdue the erstwhile Hukbalahap (Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon).”
“After the end of World War II, the Huks fought for socio-economic reforms, including the emancipation of landless farmers, and were tagged as communists. Budgetary red-tagging now coincides with the Congress’ crafting and approving the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA),” he said.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate slammed Roque for challenging the Makabayan bloc to renounce and condemn the NPA’s armed struggle, saying that while the Makabayan bloc works for social reforms through elections and legislation, “we believe that as a matter of principle, we cannot condemn the people’s option to armed struggle because we believe that it is a legitimate option of the people when faced with a foreign invader, a tyrant or a dictator such as Marcos or Idi Amin.”
Zarate said Roque’s dare is “very disturbing because it attacks our constitutional right to freedom of thought and belief while falsely imputing a crime on us for “endorsing” armed struggle.”
He said armed struggle is an option recognized under International Humanitarian Law and even the Philippine government itself when it signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL) with the National Democratic Front.
“More importantly, their (rebels’) demands such as addressing poverty, injustice and other social ills, which even the Philippine government recognizes as the root causes of rebellion in the country, are legitimate demands,” Zarate said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the 1987 Constitution will be the ultimate guide on whether there is basis to criminalize “red-tagging.”
“One major issue to be addressed if we are to criminalize red-tagging or red-baiting is if it will infringe on our Constitution’s provision ensuring freedom of expression and freedom of speech. This is a basic right that cannot be violated. That said, there are opposing views that such freedom is not absolute – that is why we have laws penalizing libel and cyber-libel,” Lacson said in an interview with dzAR.
Lacson said his office is studying position papers and other materials gathered from all sides during the last three hearings on the red-tagging issue.
Lacson earlier said he is “seriously considering” recommendations to criminalize red tagging “as long as such legislation will not infringe on the bill of rights involving freedom of speech and expression.”
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said criminalizing red-tagging is something “worth looking into.”
“With the state forces’ penchant for red-tagging government dissenters, there must be complementary accountability for such acts that could constitute abuse of authority, political bias and disregard for free exercise of views,” he said.
He said red-tagged individuals have now become target of killings, harassment, and threats “and the impunity persists because no one is punished for such acts.”
He said all that red-tagged individuals can do at present is resort to filing administrative charges before the Ombudsman but “which appears to have little dent.”
NPA LEADER ARRESTED
Amanda Socorro Echanis, 32, alias Waya, finance officer of the West Front Committee of the CPP-NPA’s Cagayan provincial committee, was arrested by soldiers and policemen at around 8:30 a.m. in Barangay Carupian in Baggao town by virtue of a search warrant for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Her father, who was also Anakpawis head, was killed in his house in Quezon City in August this year, in what police said could be a robbery or a case of personal grudge.
Maj. Jekyll Julian Dulawan, spokesman of the Army’s 5th Infantry Division based in Isabela, said the government forces recovered from Echanis’ house an M16 rifle, two M16 magazines, 20 live ammunition for M16, and two hand grenades.
Two hours earlier, troops also raided the house of Isabelo Adviento alias Buting, regional coordinator of the group Anakpawis and chairman of the Kagimungan-Cagayan chapter, about 50 meters from Echanis’ residence.
Adviento was not around during the raid but the troops found in his house a MACII Uzi caliber 9mm, a hand grenade, two rifle grenades, a landmine and assorted ammunition.
5th ID commander Maj. Gen. Laurence Mina said Echanis’ arrest “will definitely affect the operations of the terrorist NPA considering her position as the finance officer.”
PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas said Echanis insisted that she bring with her to the police station her one-month-old baby, and the police allowed her. Sinas said PNP later coordinated with the local Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The human rights group Karatapan demanded the release of Echanis, who it described as a mere peasant organizer. Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay also accused the military and the police of planting evidence.
Sinas insisted Echanis is a member of the NPA. Also, he said, Echanis’ husband is a leader of the “underground movement,” as head of the NPA group operating in Cagayan.
Sinas also said he has ordered the PNP Internal Affairs Service to look into the death of couple Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio, both 69 and consultants of the NDFP.
Sinas issued the order in the wake of allegations that PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group operatives murdered the couple during a raid of their house last November 25 in Angono, Rizal.
Police earlier said the couple resisted arrest while the lawmen were serving search warrant for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Sinas said the two had standing arrest warrants for murder and attempted murder. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Wendell Vigilia and Raymond Africa