Calls to abolish the government’s anti-terrorist task force were renewed online following the recent meeting of Vice President Leni Robredo with the military.
Since it was created in 2018, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict has gained a notoriety for associating activists, critics, journalists and even some celebrities to the communist rebellion without proof.
Early this year, NTF-ELCAC also red-tagged the community pantry movement that helped address needs of some residents in other parts of the country.
The task force’s persistent accusations against groups and individuals triggered the public outcry to abolish it altogether.
Robredo on NTF-ELCAC
Last Friday, November 26, Robredo, also a presidential aspirant, met with the new Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Andres Centino and other officers where she expressed support to NTF-ELCAC’s mandate and functions.
“I want to address the elephant in the room kasi I’ve been quoted so many times already that I’m for the abolition of NTF-ELCAC. And I want to emphasize today that I am all for the mandate and the functions of ELCAC,” the vice president said.
“In fact, yung Barangay Development Fund, I think that’s the best part of everything. Paniniwala ko, talagang it is only through concepts like this that the problems of insurgency can be addressed upfront,” she added.
Robredo also shared photos of this meeting through her social media channels.
Many thanks to the new AFP chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Andres Centino, and to the AFP joint staff for the insightful discussion at today’s security briefing. Sa gitna ng maraming pagsubok, masuwerte tayo na nananatiling matatag at tapat sa taumbayan ang ating sandatahang lakas. pic.twitter.com/BCVgZJ1sYk
— Leni Robredo (@lenirobredo) November 26, 2021
The vice president, however, emphasized that she disagreed with some of the task force’s members’ “careless statements.”
“Ako mismo, I’ve been on the receiving end of unfair accusations. I’ve been red-tagged and the red-tagging has been baseless,” she said.
Robredo also previously expressed the same opposition on the red-tagging activities.
“I think I already mentioned this in some of the previous interviews that there really is a duplication of many efforts, the duplication of the mandate, a duplication of the mandate, and it has to be abolished,” she was quoted as saying in a virtual session with the Rotary Club of Makati.
Divisive talks on NTF-ELCAC
Members of various groups and some concerned Filipinos were dismayed over Robredo’s remarks on NTF-ELCAC.
Spoken word artist Alfonso Manalastas pointed out the consequences of red-tagging on his call to cease the task force’s operations.
“I wish the only problem w/ the NTF ELCAC is the careless red-tagging. That their ignorance don’t translate to actual policies. To actual violence. To actual systematic and orchestrated imprisonments, and worse, killings. So yes, abolishing the NTF-ELCAC is non-negotiable,” Manalastas said.
Some Filipinos, on the other hand, voiced out their dissent against the NTF-ELCAC through the hashtag #AbolishNTFELCAC.
“We were illegally jailed for holding a Pride March. During detention, I experienced transphobia and sexual abuse,” said Rey Valmores-Salinas of Bahaghari Philippines, an LGBT rights group.
“When the AFP murdered and raped a 12-year old Lumad student, along with two other Lumad-Manobo in Lianga, Surigao del Sur last June, the NTF-ELCAC justified the massacre by tagging the Lumad as NPA, and the minor as a ‘child soldier’,” wrote Mayka, a volunteer of Lumad schools.
One Twitter user also shared incidents of alleged crimes by state officers.
Despite the opposition, some Filipinos expressed their support for Robredo’s meeting with military.
“Thank you men and women of AFP for this courtesy call to our dear beloved VP,” one user said.
“Definitely not ‘too soft to lead’! This woman proving then wrong (pleading emoji) She exudes elegance and strength at the same time!” another user wrote.
There were also those who called on Robredo to listen to the victims of armed conflict in the country.
In a statement, Makabayan chair Neri Colmenares, also a senatorial aspirant said he has no doubt that Robredo shares the same view as they do when it comes to the decades-long armed conflict and that it can only be resolved by “decisively addressing its roots and by pursuing peace negotiations.”
“She knows that the conflict stems from historical and deeply-ingrained social injustices that continue to fester to this day,” Colmenares said.
It is in this light that Colmenares is hopeful that Robredo would listen to the victims of armed conflict.
“Nasa likod ni VP Leni ang taumbayan sa paghahangad ng kapayapaan. Pwede namang panatilihin niya ang magandang relasyon sa AFP nang hindi sinusuportahan ang militarista, marahas at kontra-mamamayang gawain ng NTF-ELCAC. Ang mga nasa laylayan ang mas dapat pakinggan sa usapin ng kapayapaan, dahil sila mismo ang humaharap sa kahirapang nagdudulot ng labanan,” he said.
“Help us convince her [Robredo] to talk to the families and victims of red-tagging, illegal arrests/detention, abductions and killings of the NTF ELCAC. If she can talk the Generals, it shouldn’t be a problem for her to talk to the victims,” a human rights defender also said in a Tweet.
Robredo’s camp has yet to release a statement on the recent calls to abolish NTF-ELCAC.