War criminal Esperon recycles McCarthyite lies and red-tagging horrors in NTF-ELCAC

With “war criminal” National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. at the helm of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as the task force’s vice chairman, human rights watchdog Karapatan scored Esperon for “recycling the same garbage of deadly McCarthyite lies and horrors he unleashed more than a decade ago under the dark days of Oplan Bantay Laya.”

“Esperon back then led the military in the killing, enforced disappearance, and torture of hundreds of civilians, including activists — and they simultaneously denied, celebrated, and justified these brutalities through the same red-tagging rhetoric. By baselessly and maliciously tagging and vilifying legal organizations as mere fronts for the underground armed movement, the NTF-ELCAC is reviving this deadly rhetoric which brazenly violates the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants under international humanitarian law. It is tantamount to war crimes,” Karapatan Secretary Cristina Palabay said.

Palabay continued that “none other than the United Nations have denounced these killings and human rights violations in 2008. The Duterte government’s counterinsurgency campaign under the NTF-ELCAC and its so-called ‘whole-of-nation approach’ are nothing new: many of the task force’s personalities, especially its vice chair Esperon, are also recycled implementers from previous failed and discredited but nonetheless brutal counterinsurgency operation plans.”

During the height of extrajudicial killings under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime in 2006, Esperon served as the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from 2006 to 2008. He previously served as commanding general of the Philippine Army from 2005 to 2006. In his 2008 report, Philip Alston, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, stated that counterinsurgency operations “result in the extrajudicial killings of leftist activists” and, in some areas, “they are often killed following a campaign of individual vilification.”

Alston also concluded in his report that the military then under Esperon’s helm was “in a state of denial concerning the numerous extrajudicial executions on which its soldiers are directly implicated.” The military’s insistence that the killings were part of the communist movement’s internal purges have also been debunked in the report as “strikingly unconvincing” and “a cynical attempt to displace responsibility.” A document allegedly recovered by military, which supposedly supported this claim, was dismissed by Alston for it bearing “all the hallmarks of a fabrication and cannot be taken as evidence of anything other than disinformation.”

The findings of the Melo Commission also concluded that most of the killings were instigated by the AFP, notably retired major general Jovito Palparan, and recommended that he “be held liable under the principle of command responsibility for killings in their areas of assignment.” Palparan has been convicted of kidnapping and serious illegal detention for the abduction and enforced disappearances of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in 2006.

“Palparan wannabe Antonio Parlade Jr. and his lying sycophant sidekick Lorraine Badoy are merely regurgitating the already discredited tricks of Esperon in the NTF-ELCAC. These lies, however delusional, are serious threats to lives, safety, and security of civilians — and they have been used to commit war crimes with impunity. With the Anti-Terrorism Act in place, we fear that this intensifying red-tagging campaign will place the entire country in perpetual Halloween as the government unleashes the horrors of fascism upon the people. Red-tagging is a war crime that would never resolve the roots of armed conflict, and we must muster all efforts to resist this murderous regime and its cabal of war criminals and human rights violators in their bid to establish a fascist dictatorship,” the Karapatan officer ended.