President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-communism task force is just waiting for the Supreme Court anti-terror law oral arguments to end before filing cases against organizations it believes are helping communist rebels, including cases to disqualify around nine groups from the 2022 elections.
This is according to National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) spokesperson Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr in an interview on Rappler's Seat of Power podcast.
"After this anti-terror law petition, makikita ninyo talagang full blast, full force na 'yung legal offensive natin," he said on Friday, May 7 (the interview will be published on Monday, May 10).
(After this anti-terror law petition, you will see that we will go full blast, full force on our legal offensive.)
He also said that if not for the oral arguments which began in February 2, "we would have already filed cases against all those front organizations."
The task force held off on filing more cases, he said, so as not to "stymie" the Supreme Court precedings in which the court is hearing those persons and groups who want to declare Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as unconstitutional for violating basic rights and freedoms.
One of the legal attacks he said the NTF-ELCAC will pursue is to seek the disqualification of around "nine" groups from joining the 2022 elections as party-list groups.
"Tatlo na 'yung na-file-an. I think mayroon pang siyam.... May mga bagong organization silang tinayo," said Parlade.
(We filed against three. I think there are nine more.... They put up new organizations.)
He did not identify the nine groups. The NTF-ELCAC previously submitted a petition before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to cancel the registration of the Gabriela Women's Party in the party-list system, accusing it of receiving funds from a foreign government, specifically Belgium, through a nongovernmental organization.
NTF-ELCAC vice chairperson National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr has also said the government seeks the disqualification of the groups composing the Makabayan bloc: Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers Gabriela, and Kabataan.
The groups the task force will ask the Comelec to disqualify are supposedly guilty of acts of violence and receiving foreign funding, which are grounds to disqualify them from the elections, said Parlade.
Duterte has told lawmakers he wants the 1987 Constitution amended to keep out "groups calling for the fall of government" from party lists that seek election into Congress.
Meanwhile, the task force is also waiting for the Court of Appeals to proscribe groups designated by the executive branch's Anti-Terror Council as terrorists.
So far, these designated groups are the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army, apart from Muslim extremist groups like the Maute Group.
Parlade thinks there will be more designations of groups as terrorists by the Anti-Terror Council after the oral arguments.
The NTF-ELCAC feels the pressure brought on by the upcoming elections because it means time is almost up for the task Duterte gave them.
"We need to move faster because we have a timetable. The President’s instruction is to end this communist armed conflict before he steps down so we have to double time," said Parlade.
Duterte created the NTF-ELCAC in December 2018 through an executive order. He sits as its chairperson, but its policies and activities are overseen mostly by vice chairperson Esperon.
The group is described by the government as a way to bring together disparate government programs and budgets to pour in development programs in places with strong communist rebel presence in the hopes of convincing them to return to the folds of the law.
The killings of Left-leaning individuals, some during government operations, others by unknown assailants, have fueled fears of being red-tagged. Human rights groups, some lawmakers, and critics accuse Duterte of not seriously pursuing investigations into these deaths. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.