Philippine anti-terrorism law

Parlade grilled on social media regulation, press freedom at confirmation hearing

Nikko Dizon

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Parlade grilled on social media regulation, press freedom at confirmation hearing

SEEKING PRESIDENCYCommission on Appointments hearing: Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) Chief Major General Antonio Parlade Jr., appears before the hybrid deliberation of the Committee on National Defense of the Commission on Appointments Monday, August 24, 2020, tackling the ad interim appointments and nomination of 15 senior officers of the AFP. (Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB)

Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB

Southern Luzon Command chief Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr is a veteran military spokesperson who gets entangled in controversial statements

A ranking military commander told lawmakers on Monday, August 24, that social media use should be regulated, especially to prevent terrorist attacks, but admitted he does not know how this could be done under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.

At his confirmation hearing on Monday, Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) chief, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr, ultimately found himself being grilled by opposition senators on how social media regulation as well as his previous statements against journalists affect freedom of expression and press freedom.

Parlade was a former Army spokesperson and currently serves as the mouthpiece for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The NTF-ELCAC is the group created by President Rodrigo Duterte through an executive order in December 2018 as his administration’s definitive effort to end the 50-year-old communist insurgency, the longest in Asia. It aims to address the root cause of insurgency and other conflicts, which had also been the campaign of previous administrations.

Senator Franklin Drilon asked Parlade if he agreed with the statement of Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt Gen Gilbert Gapay that social media use should be regulated under the ATA to prevent terrorist acts.

Parlade said that “of course, we support press freedom, we support freedom of expression.” But he noted that, “through the years, technology has evolved and social media is being used by elements, organizations to destabilize the government.”

“As we speak, they are talking on social media how to make bombs, Molotov bombs, and we are speaking here of some legal organizations discussing about how to make Molotov bombs in social media. I think the chief of staff is right about discussing this issue, the IRR, on the use of social media if only to make sure that this aspect of terrorism or preventing terrorism is addressed,” Parlade said.

Drilon, however, said that he does not recall any provision in the law that allows social media regulation. Neither does Parlade. But the general said there should be a clause in the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the law that could help security forces prevent terrorist acts that are being planned on social media.

Parlade said he agreed that “social media per se should be available to all but the actions of people using this platform should be regulated.”

“So, I don’t know exactly how we can do that but I think that’s the idea of the chief of staff,” Parlade said.

Lacson’s reminder

Senator Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on national defense and security, reminded Parlade, Gapay, and the rest of the AFP to be “very careful” when issuing statements.

“And be very conscious because if you say regulate social media, that is what Senator Drilon is saying as prior restraint. We will be in violation of the doctrine, prior restraint,” Lacson said, adding:

“I know that the intention of the CSAFP when he issued the statement, was not along the line of imposing restraint on social media or media in general.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana himself earlier rejected Gapay’s statement.

Lacson emphasized that prior restraint is not the “legislative intent” of the ATA when lawmakers deliberated on the measure. (READ: Calida asks Supreme Court to cancel anti-terror law oral arguments)

Defeat enemy propaganda

At the hearing, Parlade said that the AFP is now addressing the propaganda campaign of the communist insurgency, a strategy that he said has long been overlooked by state security forces which they now realize is as important as engaging enemies in the battlefield.

He said that the failure of the military to address the “propaganda of the enemy” was one of the reasons why the communist insurgency has dragged on for decades.

Parlade’s remark was borne out of the probing of opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros who asked him about his alleged red-tagging of media workers, including Rappler’s senior editors Maria Ressa and Glenda Gloria, noting how the practice could endanger the lives of journalists and also violate military rules.

Parlade said he never said Ressa and Gloria were communists. He said that he only took particular exception to Gloria’s recent commentary on the government and military’s anti-insurgency campaign.

“But I was just saying that her line is way off. Her line is way off. Her comments cannot be accepted by the Armed Forces, especially saying that in the past, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been dealing with the combatants. That’s true,” he said, adding:

“But that’s also where we failed because the Armed Forces of the Philippines did not address the propaganda of the enemy. And that’s why we are here now. Until now, we have this insurgency. So this is now the time for us to understand that there’s a problem with the effort of the government, especially the AFP. Whereas before, 90% of our effort was on tactical, and 10% only to address the propaganda, now, we would like to shift to the more important aspect of this political war, which is propaganda.”

Parlade said that the military is addressing social and human rights issues, and now understands the “dynamics of this insurgency”.

“So, we are now shifting towards defeating the propaganda machinery of the NPA (New People’s Army). And if they happen to be part of that machinery, then we will destroy it,” he said.

Hontiveros, whose late husband was a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) as well as her brother, a Marine, replied that Parlade’s answer was “not a very happy note on which to end” the hearing.

Herself a former broadcast journalist, Hontiveros said the issue of red-tagging or red-baiting impacts on the importance of upholding freedom of expression and press freedom without prior restraint.

At the end of the hearing, the powerful CA confirmed Parlade’s appointment as Solcom commander. –

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Nikko Dizon

Nikko Dizon is a freelance journalist specializing in security and political reporting. She has extensively covered issues involving the military, the West Philippine Sea maritime dispute, human rights, and the peace process.