On VP Leni Robredo’s statement on the NTF-ELCAC and the AFP’s whole-of-nation approach in its “anti-insurgency” campaign

Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat

Karapatan expresses our disappointment over Vice President Leni Robredo’s statement supporting the “functions and mandates” of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the whole-of-nation approach of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in its counterinsurgency campaign.

The calls for the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC are not only confined to criticisms on “careless statements of some members.” Those few bad eggs are but a minuscule part of the whole policy and infrastructure of impunity and militarization of the government bureaucracy. The task force’s whole-of-nation framework and its mandate and functions stated in Executive Order (EO) 70 have been pointed out as the operational fusing of military and civilian functions under a predominantly militarist approach that uses campaigns that make no distinction between combatants and civilians.

For the Vice President’s information, this policy has resulted in 421 individuals killed since July 2016, including peasants, workers, indigenous people, women, human rights defenders, church and media people, and lawyers, among others. At least 215 human rights defenders such as our colleagues Zara Alvarez, Randall Echanis, Randy Malayao, Elisa Badayos, Atty. Benjamin Ramos, and Vice President Robredo’s fellow Bicolanos Ryan Hubilla and Nelly Bagasala are among the victims.

Because of EO 70 and its NTF-ELCAC, nearly 4,000 individuals have been illegally or arbitrarily detained based on trumped-up charges. Wasting in jails are 709 political prisoners, including women, elderly and the terminally-ill. Among them are urban poor activist Reina Mae Nasino, whose infant son died, journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, and 11 National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants. We documented 223 victims of torture. Some of them were left for dead and experienced cruelties reminiscent of tactics used under the Marcos martial law. Thousands have been forced or fooled into being “surrenderees” even if they are ordinary civilians.

This murderous policy has also resulted in the most gruesome human rights violations including the Bloody Sunday raids in Southern Tagalog, where nine activists and indigenous farmers were mercilessly killed by soldiers and cops. The grim acts were aided by faulty search warrants issued by an NCR-based Executive Judge. The same thing went with the following horrendous crimes: Tumandok massacre, where nine indigenous leaders were killed and 17 others were arrested; Lianga massacre of three Lumad-Manobo farmers, including a Grade 6 pupil; killings in Negros Island in the implementation of Oplan Sauron of focused military and police operations; and massacres of Bicolano peasants in Camarines Sur, Masbate, and Sorsogon.

This policy has obstructed the exercise of constitutionally protected rights such as the freedom of expression, of association and the right to organize. We aver that this policy framework has been the basis for the brazen enactment of the draconian Anti-Terrorism Law.

Addressing the root causes of the armed conflict cannot include violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law. It should focus on breaking the chain of oppression and exploitation that has impoverished and shackled Filipinos. The way to go is through genuine political, economic and social reforms, the peace process, the exacting of accountability for State-perpetrated violations, and the meting out of justice.

We enjoin Vice President Robredo, after having been briefed by generals, to meet with victims of human rights violations and their families and residents of militarized communities as part of her campaign to hold meaningful interactions with the people she is committed to serve. She can learn from their stories of horror and anguish.

We invite the Vice President to have meetings and dialogues with civil society and human rights defenders, human rights lawyers, women, the youth, church people, journalists, artists, members of the academe, and the Commission on Human Rights to obtain information on the vast extent of the dangerous impact of the NTF-ELCAC and EO 70 as well as other draconian policies invoking the whole-of-nation approach. The NTF-ELCAC and its whole-of-nation framework should be done away with, considering the atrocities these have inflicted on the Filipino people.

We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos to ensure our active involvement in the 2022 elections. Let us put forward human and people’s rights issues that should be addressed by all candidates.

Cristina Palabay
Karapatan Secretary General