By ROCKY NGALOB
With the intent to end the armed conflict with the local communist group, the President, through the exercise of his executive powers, signed Executive Order (EO) 70. The directive created the National Task Force (NTF) to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC) composed of most government agencies and selected private entities.
Part of its implementation is the creation of a Regional Task Force (RFT) in each region throughout the nation. It also created 12 clusters – each with different functions, to attain his objectives.
Framed on the concept of a ‘Whole of Nation Approach’, E0 70 mandates the convergence of government agencies to symbiotically aide each other in the delivery of basic social service to areas that show dissatisfaction with government services. Through this, the government aims to make the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) irrelevant by winning back the hearts and minds of the deprived and dissatisfied communities.
Recently, the Philippine Information Agency Cordillera organized the Cordillera Communication Network (CCN) Seminar. Information officers from the different government offices attended the event. It was comprised of two sessions — the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) Briefing and Capacity Building on EO 70 and on Maintaining Reputation for Online/Digital Marketing of Government Programs.
The PIA, being the lead agency pointed that the activity intends to encourage information offices to combat fake and biased reporting, and disseminate government programs to alleviate the living conditions of the people and urge the populace to participate in these programs.
These are noble and timely objectives to pursue, especially with the proliferation of fake news, and with some sections of the media and publicly accusing the government of disinformation. Basing from these aims, the activity was indeed an opportunity that every information officer should grab. However, the first topic stoked the sense and sensibilities of someone concerned with the rule of law and evidence-based information.
More than informing the participants on the principle of the “Whole of Nation Approach”, the speaker during the first session tried to rally the delegation against what government labels such as Communist Terrorist Groups (CTGs).
The presentation was okay at first but midway to the end, the presenter showed slides, pictures of known organizations, personalities, and party-list groups. As the discussion moved forward, it became clear that the speaker wanted to instill among the participants was to make no distinction between people’s organizations critical of government services and the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army.
Identified in the slides were open-legal organizations like League of Filipino Students (LFS), Anakbayan, National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), Confederation for Unity Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage), and Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay). Also mentioned are party-list groups like ACT Teachers, Bayan Muna, Kabataan, Anakpawis, and Gabriela. All of which, the speaker claimed to be CPP-NPA-NDF fronts or working with CTGs.
Without batting an eyelash, the lecturer drew no line between unarmed activists and the party-list groups duly recognized by the Commission on Election from the combatants of the CPP-NPA-NDF. The CPP-NPA-NDF and these organizations are one and the same. It was the conclusion, that the speaker wanted information officers to accept, swallow and amplify to the public.
However, as a law student and someone who works for an institution that ensures the respect and promotion of peoples’ rights, this line is dangerous and a cause for alarm. It was plain vilification, an act frowned upon by Philippine laws and the international human rights institutions.
It is important to note that the accused party-list groups went through and passed the scrutiny of the Commission on Elections. The court likewise dismissed all complaints filed against its leaders in the past and present. They have not been involved in any graft and corruption cases. Also, their representatives are consistently recognized among the top performers and are the poorest among the House of Representatives.
This is also the case for some of the organizations who are actually registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and other government entities like the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Civil Service Commission.
Thus, they should exist free from any form of vilification and accorded fairness before any government institution as guaranteed by our Constitution.
A more skin-crawling pronouncement was the alleged infiltration of government agencies mandated to deliver basic social service to communities by the CPP-NPA-NDF. The government agency that took the top spot of the list was the agency that recently launched a series of nationwide protest. Employees of the office demonstrated because of the looming massive lay-offs brought about a recently enacted law.
During the discussion, the speaker also identified unions and unionism as an act of the CTGs. Shoulders brushed and eyes rolled in the room. Participants are aware that the Labor Code of the Philippines and the 1987 Constitution encourage and protect unions and rights of its members. The right to organize and to air grievance within the bounds of the law are rights vested to each member of the government workforce. But more importantly, joining demonstrations, in general, is legal and is not an act of terrorism.
Could it be that the reason for placing these offices in the list is the nature of their work – delivering basic social services to the hard to reach and deprived areas of the region or the country? Or was it for having unions and demonstrating to protect their security of tenure acts to classify them as CTGs? One may refuse to believe that this is the case but it seems more like it.
The logic of the presenter is also worrisome for someone who supports the groups and party-lists in their own volition and belief because of the benefits from their advocacy and campaign. Even without mentioning, it was clear that these supporters are at risk of being labeled as communist sympathizers, NPA members or terrorists.
The “capacity building” intends to arm information officers to discredit perceived enemies of the state, not only the CPP-NPA but includes civilians, government workers, rights advocates, and political dissenters. To be clear, this matter is a cause for alarm. Rather than urging them to wage a “propaganda war”, it would have been better if the speaker provided factual data on how the “Whole of Nation” strategy will ensure the delivery of sufficient, appropriate and timely services to the poverty-stricken areas in the country.
Further, it is unfair to demand from the information officers to tread on the road of accusing long-established people’s organizations of being terrorists or abetting terrorist activities. This puts the credibility of the personnel and office at risk, not to mention possible legal actions especially when the presenter failed to provide evidence that can stand in court nor a copy of their presentation. How can an information officer be sure of the information when the source itself is not confident that the presentation can be made public and stand public and legal scrutiny.
The people freely expressing their dissent and discontent with the government are hallmarks of democracy. These should serve as a feedback mechanism on how effective government programs are and how to improve it.
As communicators mandated to uphold public welfare and interest, we know better! # nordis.net