Sobejana faces first task as new AFP Chief and it’s about red-tagging

Published February 5, 2021, 8:28 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

A day after his assumption of office, new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana on Friday, February 5, immediately hit the ground running and on top of his priorities was to determine possible violations committed by a ranking general who was accused of red-tagging a journalist.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana

Sobejana, who took command of the AFP on Thursday, said he has ordered an internal review of Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade’s social media post about Tetch Torres-Tupas, an Inquirer reporter, where the military official threatened to file a case against the journalist for supposedly “aiding the terrorists.”

“We should be extra careful lalo na sa pagsasalita (especially in the way we talk). We should be very accurate in determining the enemies of the State,” Sobejana said in a television interview over ANC. 

“Besides, we are mandated to serve the people so we should not appear as the enemy of the people,” he added.

On Wednesday, Parlade, the commander of the Southern Luzon Command (SoLCom) and spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), posted on his Facebook account a write-up of Torres about a petition filed by two Aetas before the Supreme Court to declare the Anti-Terrorism Act as unconstitutional. 

In their petition, Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, the first to be accused of violating the Anti-Terrorism Act, said they were allegedly tortured and forced to admit as New People’s Army (NPA) rebels by members of the 73rd Recoinassance Division, 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.

The two were arrested by the military after a firefight with suspected NPA rebels in Zambales on Aug. 21, 2020.

In his post, Parlade taunted Torres-Tupas and threatened to file a case against her for “a sloppy work.”

“You did not even bother to check the side of the AFP and gov’t [government] if what you are reporting is true or FAKE. Propagandista,” Parlade wrote.

A social media user asked if Parlade can sue Torres-Tupas, to which the military official replied: “Aiding the terrorists by spreading lies? Puede (I can).”

But Sobejana seemed unimpressed by Parlade’s remarks as he noted that it is crucial for the military to properly identify who the enemies are, and who are not, if they want to defeat the communist rebels.

“I do believe that for us to win this war, we should not just make ourselves bigger but make the enemy smaller. So it’s better to create friends than creating enemies. We should not hurt anybody unless he is the enemy of the State so we have to really properly identify the enemies so that there will be no collateral damage,” he said.

“We should be very careful because the burden of proof is on us if we just talk a lot na wala tayong pinanghahawakan na mga ebidensya (where we present no evidence),” he added.

Several media groups led by the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) hit Parlade for allegedly red-tagging Torres-Tupas, whom the group said was just doing her work when she wrote the petition filed by the two Aetas.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson also wanted Parlade to be fired for his “careless” and “totally unnecessary” remarks amid the Supreme Court’s deliberations on the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

This was not the first time that Parlade was accused of red-tagging. 

In October 2020, he warned actresses Liza Soberano and Angel Locsin, and beauty queen Catriona Gray to distance themselves from organizations he claimed were front organizations of the NPA.

Parlade was initially admonished by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for this as his warning was deemed a death threat by the supporters of the celebrities.

After the abrogation of an accord between the University of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense two weeks ago, Parlade also released a list of universities where communist recruitment was allegedly being conducted including Ateneo de Manila University, University of Santo Tomas, Far Eastern University, and De La Salle University.

The management of the universities have all denied Parlade’s claims.