Department of Justice

DOJ sidesteps question on NTF-ELCAC’s red-tagging

Lian Buan

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DOJ sidesteps question on NTF-ELCAC’s red-tagging

DOJ. This file photo shows the facade of the Department of Justice.

File photo by Leanne Jazul/Rappler

The task force's spokespersons have red-tagged community pantry organizers even as government leaders say that organizers should be left alone

The Department of Justice (DOJ) sidestepped a question on where it stands on the red-tagging spree of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), whose spokespersons targeted this week organizers of community pantries that give supplies to Filipinos in dire need of help during the pandemic.

DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra is among the 20 members of the NTF-ELCAC, a presidential task force created to do a whole-of-nation approach to combat communist insurgency, but had been red-tagging even journalists without showing evidence.

Asked on Friday, April 23, whether he stands by the public claims of the task force’s spokespeople, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr and Press Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, Guevarra deferred to his undersecretary, Adrian Sugay, who is his alternative representative to the NTF-ELCAC.

“To the extent that the task force stays true to its mandate, the department finds no reason not to support the work of the task force,” said Sugay.

But the question was – do you stand by the public claims of its spokespeople?

Sugay’s non-direct answer was: “If, however, any party feels aggrieved because of alleged illegal acts on the part of the task force or of any of its members and chooses to file the appropriate criminal complaint with the National Prosecution Service (NPS), the criminal complaint shall be resolved in due course and in accordance with applicable law and jurisprudence.”

Will prosecutors be independent in resolving such complaints when the justice secretary sits on the task force?

“We have always been aware of the fact that complaints may be filed by or against the task force before the NPS. As such, the department to the extent possible participates in the task force in an advisory capacity,” said Sugay.

Parlade has admitted to profiling community pantry organizers, even as government leaders, including Guevarra, said that organizers should be left alone.

Guevarra said a person subjected to profiling could file a complaint for violation of the data privacy law. Red-tagging, on the other hand, has no strict penal law equivalence, but activists had been creative, using the route of graft and international humanitarian law.

Legal cluster

Sugay told the House of Representatives in 2020 during the DOJ’s budget hearing that the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) was more involved in the task force’s legal cooperation cluster, precisely because of the conflict it creates with the NPS.

“We had an agreement with the NTF-ELCAC that the matter of legal cooperation cluster should be handled by the OSG,” Sugay told the House in 2020.

He was asked the question because it turned out the OSG had acted as the lawyer for National Security Adviser General Hermogenes Esperon Jr in a countersuit of perjury he filed against activists. Activists filed a petition for amparo against defense and military officials, including him.

The Court of Appeals denied the petition, and Esperon went on to sue the activists, including a nun, of perjury.

The question was – should the OSG lawyer for Esperon in a case that appears to be a private one?

Sugay and Guevarra also did not answer directly during the House hearing.

Guevarra did order in 2020 the removal from its website of an inter-agency human rights report, where established non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were blatantly red-tagged.

There are ongoing discussions in both houses of Congress to defund the NTF-ELCAC. Currently, its budget is charged to the budgets of its member-agencies. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.