NTF-ELCAC personalities in 2022 party-list race worry poll watchdog

Poll watchdog Kontra Daya and leftist group Bayan Muna sounded the alarm over the rise in the number of anti-communist insurgency personalities seeking to join the 2022 party-list race.

At least three personalities closely associated with the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) are nominees of party-list groups which filed their papers before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in early October.

The NTF-ELCAC is notorious for red-baiting progressives and other government critics. Some of those tagged also became victims of extra-judicial killings.

Those aspiring to join the party-list polls are NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Celine Pialago of Malasakit Movement, NTF-ELCAC ambassador Michelle Gumabao of Mothers for Change, and NTF-ELCAC informant Eric Celiz of Abante Sambayanan.

In a phone interview with Rappler on Tuesday, October 12, Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao said their group was worried over the possibility of a concerted effort from the government to field NTF-ELCAC personalities in the 2022 party-list election.

"We can see that in the context of red-tagging, even the hijacking of the party-list race may be part of the whole-of-nation approach as reflected in Executive Order 70," Arao said, referring to the document which institutionalized the NTF-ELCAC.

"We’re seeing here the possibility of intensified red-tagging against certain party-list groups, particularly the Makabayan bloc and most likely, some other senatorial aspirants who are identified with progressive efforts," he added.

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate shared sentiments similar to Arao's.

"This is another example of the bastardization of the party-list system with personalities, appointed officials of the government using their offices to advance their candidacies," the House Deputy Minority Leader told Rappler.

Party-list groups of NTF-ELCAC personalities

Rappler reached out to Malasakit Movement, Abante Sambayanan, Mothers for Change, and NTF-ELCAC for a reaction, but we have yet to receive a response. We will publish their comments as soon as we receive them.

Malasakit Movement, of which Pialago is the first nominee, seeks to represent frontline workers at the grassroots level such as barangay personnel.

When asked during the candidacy filing whether it was willing to work with the Makabayan bloc in Congress, Pialago deflected and instead vouched for the integrity of the anti-communist insurgency task force.

"The NTF-ELCAC has nice goals. The NTF-ELCAC can expect me to be its voice in Congress," Pialago had said in Filipino.

Abante Sambayanan, meanwhile, seeks to represent in the legislature former communist rebels.

Its first nominee, Celiz, claimed that party-list groups under Makabayan bloc are led by communists. Celiz did not present any evidence to support her claim. Her accusations, the same line used by the NTF-ELCAC, have been repeatedly denied by progressives.

Mothers for Change, meanwhile, as the name suggests, hopes to represent mothers in Congress. Gumabao is the second nominee, only behind known disinformation peddler Mocha Uson.

Aside from the three, Duterte Youth, which is controversial for red-tagging campus groups, also submitted its list of nominees for the 2022 polls.

Why does this matter?

The Commission on Human Rights has repeatedly warned about the dangers of red-tagging by the Duterte administration, noting that it comes with the context of increasing extrajudicial killings in the country.

There has been massive pushback against the NTF-ELCAC over its red-tagging of leftists and critics of the government.

Earlier in 2021, the task force sparked outrage after admitting it profiled community pantry organizers to check whether they had ties to rebel groups. The incident has prompted senators to consider defunding NTF-ELCAC in 2022.

The task force has also petitioned the Comelec to bar Gabriela and Kabataan from joining the 2022 party-list race. The cases have yet to be resolved.

Makabayan and other dissidents of the government have feared that NTF-ELCAC's red-baiting was part of efforts to suppress criticism against the Duterte administration. – Rappler.com