MANILA, Philippines — Karapatan, a leftist rights group often red-tagged by the government’s anti-insurgency task force, called out the Philippine National Police on Wednesday for “hijacking” the concept of community pantries which they initially branded as communist propaganda.
While there was nothing wrong doing something good for people, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the PNP and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) were clearly “attempting to hijack mutual aid initiatives” so they could continue to endanger the lives of activists.
Both the NTF-Elcac and the PNP earlier attempted to profile and then later red-tag the community pantry set up by Ana Patricia Non, whom the NTF-Elcac accused of being a member of an underground rebel organization.
At the same time, the PNP embarked on its own community pantry project and called it Barangayanihan, a portmanteau of the Tagalog words “barangay” (village) and “bayanihan” (cooperativism).
Such Barangayanihan pantries have been organized in Cagayan de Oro and Negros Occidental and more are expected across the country starting May 1, but an internal police memo appeared to have ordered police precincts to also “plant” aid beneficiaries who would subsequently praise the police project on social media.
PNP chief Debold Sinas denied having issued such an order and said: “We don’t have [a policy of] planting [beneficiaries]” even as he ordered an investigation of the report that went viral on social media, to the amusement of netizens.
PNP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronnie Olay conceded that it might have been just a “wrong choice of words.”
But Palabay said there was “no other way to interpret this but the PNP honoring its time-honed tradition of planting evidence in their activities and operations that even directives for their so-called community relations activities involve such deception.”
Palabay blamed the NTF-Elcac for the “cheap PR stunt to salvage the NTF-Elcac’s image amid growing calls to defund it” because of the repeated operational blunders and serious political gaffes of its officials, like Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. and spokesperson Lorraine Badoy.
Lawmakers have demanded the removal of Parlade because of his allegedly illegal appointment and threatened to defund the task force beginning next year.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has also introduced a bill that would criminalize Parlade’s “reckless endangerment” of Filipino citizens and asked on President Duterte to endorse his bill as urgent.
Drilon, a former justice secretary, asked for the President’s endorsement after Justce Secretary Menardo Guevarra acknowledged the need for a law against reckless endangerment, which can be used as a remedy against Red-tagging.
“Victims are left without proper recourse against their perpetrators and are forced to file seemingly-appropriate-but-not-quite cases, like libel and grave threat,” Drilon said.
New law needed
Existing laws on libel and grave threats are inappropriate and insufficient in cases where “a state agent vilifies a person as an enemy of the state thereby impinging on the rights of that individual,” according to Drilon.
On Tuesday, Guevarra agreed that a new law might be needed to protect individuals facing Red-tagging, or being accused of being communists although there is no longer any law against communism in the country.
“[Criminalizing Red-tagging] may help reduce the problem of reckless endangerment. It’s really something for Congress to ponder on,” Guevarra said.
“It would be best … that Congress enact a law clearly defining and expressly penalizing what is loosely called today as ‘Red-tagging,’” he added.
—WITH A REPORT FROM DJ YAP
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