Esperon vows to review Senate's calls for Parlade's removal from NTF-ELCAC

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. made a promise on Saturday, May 1, that he will look into the Senate's call for the removal of Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. as a spokesperson of the government's anti-insurgency task force.

Senators Panfilo Lacson and Franklin Drilon have insisted that the designation of Parlade, commander of the military's Southern Luzon Command (SoLCom), as a spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), a civilian position, violates the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

"Mayroon nga silang panukala na i-censure na nga nila si Gen. Parlade, ngayon pinapatanggal nila na spokesperson. Mayroon kaming usapan niyan ni Sen. Lacson na titignan ko (They have a resolution that censures Gen. Parlade, and now they want him out as a spokesperson. Sen. Lacson and I have already talked about it and I will look into it)," said Esperon, vice chairman of the NTF-ELCAC, at a virtual "Laging Handa" press briefing.

According to Section 5, Paragraph 4 of the Constitution, "no member of the armed forces in the active service shall, at any time, be appointed or designated in any capacity to a civilian position in the Government, including government-owned or controlled corporations or any of their subsidiaries."

Parlade's removal from the government's anti-insurgency task force was raised by the senators after the military official received backlash for persistent red-tagging, the latest of which was against Ana Patricia Non, an organizer of the community pantry initative in Quezon City.

Non's food bank initiative, which aims to provide free food and other basic necessities to people affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, was likened by Parlade to Satan or the Devil giving an apple to Eve in the Garden of Eden. He claimed that some individuals allegedly connected to the communist insurgency were exploiting the initiative to expose the government's lack of support to the communities amid the pandemic.

This act of red-tagging prompted several senators and congressmen to call for the defunding of the NTF-ELCAC so that their budget could be realigned to the government's pandemic response. Senators also made a resolution to censure Parlade for calling them "stupid" over the defunding calls.

In response, Esperon said he was preparing a letter that he will personally bring to the senators, particularly to Senate President Vicente Sotto III to answer Drilon and Lacson's calls for Parlade's removal.

"Mayroon akong sagot sa kanila kaya nga lang hindi ko sasabihin dito dahil mayroon akong ginagawang sulat (I have an answer to them but I will not reveal it now because I am making a letter)," Esperon said,

"Dadalhin ko 'yung sulat sa Senate President kasi si Senate President napaka-supportive sa programs ng national security. Dadalhin ko din 'yon kay Senator Bato dahil hindi siya pumipirma sa pag-call ng resignation or pag-alis kay Gen. Parlade. May mga kakausapin din akong senador dyan sa sulat tungkol dyan (I will bring the letter to Senate President because the Senate President is supportive of our programs in the national security. I will also bring it to Senator Bato because he did not sign the calling for the resignation or removal of Gen. Parlade. I will also talk to some senators in my letter to discuss the issue)," he added.

Asked how long will it take for him to review the calls for Parlade's removal at the NTF-ELCAC, Esperon said they did not impose a deadline on themselves.

"Pabayaan niyo kami, dahil wala kaming deadline na ibinigay sa sarili namin. Ang objective namin paano mabigyan ng karampatang tugon ang sentiments ng Senado at sasabihin din namin ang aming tugon dahil nadadamay 'yung pondo ng NTF-ELCAC (Let us be because we did not give a deadline to ourselves. Our objective is to give a prompt response to the sentiments of the Senate and we will also air our side because the budget of the NTF-ELCAC is being affected)," he said.

He also reiterated that the NTF-ELCAC was not engaged in red-tagging or the malicious linking of individuals or organizations that are critical of the government to a communist or terrorist movement.

He blamed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Ma. "Joma" Sison for allegedly identifying the personalities and groups that are considered as affilliates of the communist movement.

"We are not red-tagging them, we are just informing them of their relations to the CPP - NPA - NDF ," Esperon said.

"Kaya sila galit kay Gen. Parlade dahil ngayon lang nabubunyag 'yung kanilang relations with the CPP-NPA-NDF (They are mat at Gen. Parlade because it is only now that their relations to the CPP-NPA-NDF are being uncovered)," he added.