February 3, 2024

The Marcos Jr. regime’s rejection of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan’s initial recommendations on the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), as well as its deceitful prospective renaming of the notorious task force further expose its intent and design to inflict fascist terror on the Filipino people.

“The dirty operators of the Marcos Jr. government’s counter-insurgency campaign have further unravelled themselves as the real enemies of freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, and human rights in the country. They want a continuum of their grand scheme of systematic attacks on the rights and freedoms of the people to information, expression, opinion, among other fundamental rights, through the NTF-ELCAC and their National Security Policy,” said KARAPATAN secretary general Cristina Palabay.

Palabay scored the statements made by National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. and National Security Council Assistant Director Jonathan Malaya who, in unison, rejected the recommendation of UN SR Khan to abolish the NTF-ELCAC. She noted that Khan is the second UN expert that has called for the abolition of the task after an official country visit, after UN Special Rapporteur on climate change and human rights Dr. Ian Fry made a similar recommendation in November 2023.

According to Palabay, they have no reason to believe that the Marcos Jr. government will ‘transform’ an agency, by merely using ‘big words’ like “unity,” “peace” and “development,” and yet maintaining the policy of repression, and the climate of impunity.

“It should be game over for the NTF-ELCAC, or whatever they will use to change its name. These government officials, a number of them from the military, who are defending this monstrous agency, are the same people who have implemented and carried out red-tagging and terrorist-labeling in all corners of the country, resulting to the more grave violations on freedom of expression and opinion that is, the killings,” Palabay said.

On the other hand, Khan’s view on the incompatibility of the Anti-Terror Law with international human rights standards is attested to by the experiences of the very victims of the terror law – the indigenous human rights defenders in Cordillera arbitrarily designated as “terrorists,” development NGOs and churches who are facing persecution and whose humanitarian work and support for communities are impeded, young human rights workers who face trumped up charges when they assist communities affected by NTF-ELCAC’s military operations.

“We shall continue to call for the repeal of the terror laws, and resist the use of judicial harassment and weaponization of the law against protest and dissent,” said Palabay. As in the words of Khan, that the killing of journalists becomes the “most egregious form of censorship,” Palabay also said that the government’s red-tagging and terrorist-labeling have opened the floodgates to the worst attacks against the Filipino people.

“Malaya and Año have all the audacity to tell us, rights defenders under attack, to pursue legal remedies for those who have experienced red- or terror-tagging. Aside from saying ‘been there, done that,’ the DOJ’s Administrative Order No. 35 task force has become another useless task force, in conducting veracious investigation that may help and lead to the filing of complaints against perpetrators of rights violations and attacks on free speech and expression,” said Palabay.

She said that by design, the AO35 task force, of which police and military officials are part of, do not possess the political will to investigate, prosecute and bring to justice the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance and torture, and assess and address the policies and root causes of the climate of impunity in the Philippines. “In our view, the AO35 task force has been used to whitewash these grave human rights violations,” Palabay said.

“As we anticipate Khan’s report in June 2025, we will continue to make the State accountable on its attacks on freedom of opinion and expression,” said KARAPATAN.