UN’s Khan urges Marcos: Abolish NTF-ELCAC

Jairo Bolledo

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UN’s Khan urges Marcos: Abolish NTF-ELCAC

KHAN. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan holds an exit press conference as she concludes her official visit to the Philippines on February 2, 2024.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) The visiting UN special rapporteur also asks the government to issue an executive order against red-tagging

MANILA, Philippines – United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan, here for a 10-day visit, urged the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to abolish the country’s anti-insurgency task force.

At a press briefing on Friday, February 2, Khan took note that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) was no longer applicable in the current context due to the government’s announcement that it was reopening talks with communist guerrillas, which were stalled under the previous Duterte regime.

Khan said she also recommended to the government to issue an executive order that stipulates a policy against red-tagging. In addition, She also recommended to the Commission on Human Rights to define red-tagging and terror-tagging and propose legislation against it.

“The abolition will not only address some of the most critical drivers of red-tagging, but it will also allow this administration to modernize peace-building approaches based on this changing political landscape. The abolition will allow for a more inclusive peacemaking platform or platforms, with participation of women peacemakers and communities as a genuine whole-of-nation approach to peace,” Khan said. 

Former NTF-ELCAC officials have been notorious for red-tagging activists and critics of the previous Duterte administration.

The NTF-ELCAC was created through EO No. 70 signed by former president Rodrigo Duterte in 2018. It was given a hefty budget over the years.

Khan said many members of civil society groups, in her meetings with them, raised concerns over red-tagging. The Philippine government insists that red-tagging is not a state policy.

In the last 22 years, there were at least 10 UN Special Rapporteurs (UNSR) who visited the Philippines. Khan was the third UNSR to come over under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration. The previous two were Fatimah Singhateh, UNSR for the sale and exploitation of children who visited in November 2022; and Ian Fry, UNSR on the promotion and protection of human rights, who also recommended last year the disbanding the NTF-ELCAC. 

Khan also noted the government’s decision to hold another round of peace talks with communist insurgentsthe release of senator Leila de Lima, and the acquittal of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa on tax fraud charges. The UN special rapporteur called these “positive signals” – but, she said, these were not enough.

“So there is a willingness to engage with the UN, these are all positive signals, but they are not sufficient to turn the page decisively on the past,” Khan said. “Tackling the grave and deep-seated human rights problems of the Philippines, many of which are related to my mandate, will require more fundamental and sustained reforms and also a clear commitment to accountability.”

Review case vs Cumpio

During her stay in the Philippines, Khan also paid a visit to detained community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, and the latter’s companions: Marielle Domequil of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Eastern Visayas and Alexander Abinguna of Karapatan-Eastern Visayas. 

The three have been detained in Tacloban City for almost four years over illegal possession of firearms. Cumpio was arrested in Leyte in February 2020 during a series of raids by the Philippine military, and amid the crackdown of the Duterte administration against progressive individuals.

Recalling her meeting with Cumpio, Khan said the three were in high spirits, but took note that Cumpio had been languishing behind bars for years. “It was almost inspiring to see these young people, three young people, arrested at the age of 21, still languishing in prison. Frenchie had just celebrated her 25th birthday. They had been in prison for four years. And justice delayed is justice denied.”

Khan called on the government to look into their cases, review or dismiss them, “or bring them to trial rapidly with full due process so that it can be decided whether or not they are guilty.”

“To leave them to languish, to leave young people like that, inspiring, articulate, resilient young people in prison, sends a terrible message for the youth of this country,” Khan added. 

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), in a statement, said it welcomed Khan’s recommendations and thanked the UN special rapporteur for visiting Cumpio. 

“[The] NUJP hopes that the Philippine government heeds the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur by taking concrete measures for the protection of the Filipino people’s right to free expression and opinion,” the NUJP said. –


WATCH: UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan in conversation with PH media

WATCH: UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan in conversation with PH media

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.