MANILA, Philippines – Leftist lawmakers faced off with the defense chief on Tuesday, August 27, over the defense establishment’s supposed “vilification” of progressive groups and their alleged links to the communist insurgency.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dared members of the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives to categorically denounce the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), during a hearing on the Department of National Defense’s (DND) budget proposal for 2020.
“I will ask the Makabayan bloc: condemn the CPP-NPA. Hindi ‘nyo kino-condemn eh. Kung saan marami ‘yung NPA, nandoon din kayo (You don’t condemn it. Where the NPA are rife, you’re there, too),” Lorenzana told Bayan Muna party-list’s Carlos Zarate, Kabataan party-list’s Sarah Jane Elago, and ACT Teachers party-list’s France Castro, after they accused the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) of cracking down on progressive organizations in schools and rural communities.
Zarate, Elago, and Castro criticized Lorenzana over the AFP’s “red-tagging” of the Makabayan bloc as a front organization of the CPP-NPA, which the defense chief said would stop if the group condemned the insurgency once and for all.
“We have evidence that the Makabayan organizations are being used by the CPP-NPA to strengthen their ranks,” Lorenzana replied, adding that the group always turns up at “troublesome rallies.”
“Ang problema ko sa DND, pinagsasama nila ‘yung mga combatant ‘tsaka mga non-combatant kaya lahat ng nag-o-oppose, lahat ng nagra-rally, tinuturing nila na terorista,” Castro shot back.
(My problem with the DND is they lump together combatants with non-combatants so everyone who opposes, everyone who rallies, they treat as terrorists.)
On her turn to interpellate, Elago picked up where Castro left off: “I would like to strongly condemn, as a youth representative, the statement made by the DND Secretary saying that participating in rallies and mass demonstrations and such public gatherings are tantamount to being a member or being linked to the communist, or those who are waging armed resistance in this country.”
“Joining rallies per se is not a crime… But when the students cross the line and join the armed struggle to violently overthrow the government, iba na po ‘yon (that’s something else),” Lorenzana said, pointing out that the CPP-NPA’s hammer-and-sickle emblem has often been seen on some protesters’ placards and banners.
“How else are we to interpret that?” he asked Elago.
Tit for tat
“I dare the DND Secretary…show those pictures to this representation now,” Elago challenged the defense chief.
She then called the military’s campaign against leftist groups a “witch hunt” fueled by a “dangerous mindset.”
None of the Makabayan lawmakers would condemn the CPP-NPA as Lorenzana had challenged them.
After the hearing, Elago told reporters that they “condemn all human rights violations of all who are committing it.”
Zarate pointed out that it was the Makabayan bloc that lobbied for free tuition, free irrigation, and higher pension for senior citizens.
“Is that an act of terrorism?” Zarate said.
Setting the scenario?
Zarate, who is on his third term as Bayan Muna representative, decried the government’s “vilification campaign” against the Makabayan bloc, saying security officials have thus far not presented evidence of their accusations.
Addressing allegations that leftist groups recruit members among students who eventually end up as NPA fighters, Zarate said it does not necessarily follow, and that the Philippine Military Academy itself has churned out graduates who eventually joined the NPA.
“Are you setting the scenario now because you are pushing for the revival of the anti-subversion law?” Zarate asked Lorenzana.
President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to end the communist insurgency but attempts at peace talks with the communist party’s political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF) broke down two years into his term.
Duterte accused the CPP-NPA-NDF of violating ceasefires, continuing attacks on security forces, and extorting money from rural communities as “revolutionary tax.” He and the government have resumed calling them “terrorists.”
The government has since relegated the peace process with the communists to local governments – “localized peace talks” – which the CPP-NPA-NDF has rejected.
The Makabayan bloc has called for the resumption of the talks, saying the rebellion can only be arrested by addressing its roots, which are social injustice and corruption in government.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has proposed to revive the anti-subversion law, which was repealed in 1992 when the government began a peace process with the communist rebels.
With his proposal, Año has sought to altogether outlaw communism, and make membership in groups with communist ideologies illegal.
The fearless ones
After the argument between Lorenzana and the Makabayan lawmakers, Bataan 1st District Representative Geraldine Roman tried to mediate.
“Hindi po ako sang-ayon sa nangyayari sa ating bansa kung saan nagkakaroon ng (I disagree with what is happening in our country where there is now) demonization of ideologies, causes, ideas. And I don’t want to point a finger at one side only. It’s happening both ways.”
“We cannot deny the very important role that our armed men play in their service to the country,” Roman pointed out, adding that she is saddened to hear criticism of the uniformed services.
“Which is not to say that abuses do not exist,” she added.
“But at the same time, you know I’m friends with my colleagues from the Makabayan bloc and, really, I look up to them. Sabi ko nga, sila po ‘yung talagang walang kinakatakutan (As I have said, they’re the really fearless ones) and they exercise a very important function in our democracy, which is checks and balances.” – Rappler.com