Generals tell Senate that leftist groups red-tagged themselves, not the military

Published November 3, 2020, 6:27 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Key security and intelligence officials denied on Tuesday that they were engaged in the “red-tagging” of personalities and progressive groups, saying these organizations were doing it for themselves.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. (REY BANIQUET/Presidential Photo / MANILA BULLETIN)

During the Senate defense committee oversight hearing on the issue, Senator Panfilo Lacson asked each of the national defense and security officials if they ever red-tagged personalities and groups in their personal and official capacity.

In response, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said: “I have never red-tagged them but I am very clear about it that I heard from no less than Jose Maria Sison naming them as part of the national democratic revolution.”

Esperon, vice chairman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) referred to their presentation showing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder mentioned in an undated video clip the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Gabriela, the Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, League of Filipino Students and Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), among others, as part of the party.

“Even while there are forces of armed revolution, there are the legal democratic forces in the Philippines,” Sison said in the video clip.

Esperon also recalled the arrest of ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro in relation to the shut down of the Salugpungan schools and their rescue of Lumad students and teachers in Davao amid government’s crackdown of communist insurgency in 2018.  The government linked the schools to the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed wing.

“Hindi na kami mag-iisip nang malayo pa, sinasabi namin, sila talaga ang nagpapatakbo ng mga eskwelahan na ‘yon. Otherwise, sana ang inasikaso ni Ms. Castro na ACT Partylist ay ‘yong kapakanan ng mga teachers….Bakit nandoon siya, sino pinoprotektahan nila? ‘Yong NPA na nagtuturo? (We need not analyze further to say that they are running these schools. Otherwise Ms. Castro of the ACT Partylist should be working on the welfare of teachers…Why was she there, who was she protecting? The NPA teachers there?)”

“Kaya hindi na namin kailangan i-red tag sila. Sila ang nagrered-tag sa sarili nila, sa kanilang gawain. (That’s why we don’t need to red-tag them. They are the ones red-tagging themselves and their activities),” Esperon maintained.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana echoed this statement, telling Lacson: “No, Mr. Chairman. I always, during hearings in the Senate and the House when the red tagging comes up, I always tell them we did not red tag you, you red-tagged yourself.”

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said he also never red-tagged groups and that red-tagging was “never part of our policy”.

“Sa part ko po hindi pa po ako nakapagred-tag personally or officially. Sabi po ng kanilang abogado, ang pagrered-tag ay pagle-label sa mga left-leaning, sa tingin ko sila naman po ang makakasagot kung left leaning sila o hindi (On my part I never red tagged anyone personally or officially. Their lawyer said red-tagging is labeling groups as left-leaning, I think they answer for themselves if they are left-leaning or not),” Año said.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff General Gilbert Gapay and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief directorial staff Lt. Gen. Cesar Binag said neither they and their institutions also engaged in red-tagging.

“In the PNP, as a matter of policy, red tagging is not existent. As a matter of police operation procedure, it is not existent. As a matter of doctrine, we operate based on evidence and personally, Sir, No,” Binag said.

“No, Sir,” Gapay said for his part.

Lawmakers in the Makabayan bloc in the House or Representatives accused government security officials of red-tagging after Lt. General Antonio Parlade Jr. issued statement claiming that Gabriela was acting as a front to the CPP and NPA, while implicating actresses Angel Locsin, Liza Soberano and beauty queen Catriona Gray for speaking up about women’s rights.

Parlade insisted that he did not red-tag the celebrities. “No, your honor. I did not,” he responded to Lacson.

In turn, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency chief Alex Monteagudo, also of NTF-ELCAC, alleged that Makabayan congressmen were “bullying” the task force by “threatening us with cases and blocking our budget.”

Monteagudo said they were only exposing individuals and groups they validated as members or front of the CPP and the NPA.

The NTF-ELCAC stood firm that CPP, NPA and the National Democratic Front were listed as “terrorists” by other countries, even as Lacson stressed that they were not included in the United Nation’s Security Council list and that their proscription as terrorist organizations is still pending before a Manila court.

“We therefore plead guilty,  not red-tagging, but to truth-tagging,” said Monteagudo.