RED-TAGGING by NTF-ELCAC amid Pandemic

RED-TAGGING by NTF-ELCAC amid Pandemic

The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) clergy and laity were shocked and appalled when on October 30, 2020 a video clip proliferated in social media claiming the IFI and other Churches in the Philippines to have “15% membership as members of CPP-NPA-NDFP.”  This accusation came from a certain “Ka Eric,” a self-confessed member of the “National Operation Command of the New People’s Army for 27 years.

Such accusation prompted the Obispo Maximo Rhee Millena Timbang to issue a Statement, on behalf of the IFI, denouncing the recent red-tagging of the Church. On November 4, 2020, the Obispado Maximo (Central Office and National Cathedral) held a discussion through its IFI Online Program: IFI Response to Red-Tagging: A Conversation on the Statement of the Obispo Maximo on Malicious Insinuation against the IFI. In the discussion, the “personal” background of Jeffrey Celiz (aka: Ka Eric Almendras) was examined using an article, “Who is Mr. Jeffrey Celiz or “Ka Eric” Almendras and Why the Public Should Not Believe His Wild Claims,” by Atty. Jobert Pahilga, posted on his facebook account as “a friend” of Jeffrey Celiz. (https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10221119210983431&set=pcb.10221119176342565)

A pubmat/infographic was circulated on November 9, 2020 in social media that red-tagged a UCCP bishop, a Roman Catholic bishop, and the SOTANA (Seminarians on Transformation and Nationalism) chairperson (Aglipay Central Theological Seminary or ACTS chapter). On the following day, ACTS was “visited” by five elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) stationed at Urdaneta City.

In the Statement of the Obispo Maximo issued on November 11, 2020 entitled, “We Continue to Serve the Lord,” asserts: “This red-tagging incident against Bro. Raffy Bayudan turned more worrisome when five PNP personnel intruded into the ACTS compound and facilities yesterday, November 10, 2020 at or about 10.20 AM. They came without prior appointment with the Seminary Dean or with the Parish Priest on board with the PNP Mobile Car Patrol marked ‘Urdaneta City PS Pangasinan PPO PRO1.’ One among the five was a male wearing civilian clothes and taking pictures randomly of the seminary compound and its facilities. The four others were armed wearing “Type C” police uniforms; three were carrying short firearms and one long rifle. Aside from taking pictures, they separately went around the church building and seminary premises; asked questions about relief goods, youth activities, and subjects being taught in the seminary; and a few ridiculous others.”

We condemn this newest red-tagging incidence against church people and against the IFI and its senior seminarian in particular. We denounce the blatant violation of the PNP Urdaneta City against the privacy of IFI property at ACTS and at the Parish Compound; their intrusion is simply unjustifiable and grossly deplorable and has unmistaken connection with the red-tagging of one ACTS seminarian, Bro. Raffy Bayudan, the day before. We suspect that those responsible in the red-tagging and those PNP Urdaneta City personnel themselves obtained the name of Bro. Raffy Bayudan from the Unity Statement which Bro. Raffy Bayudan signed as Chairperson of SOTANA-ACTS to protest and oppose the plan to build and operate the second coal power plant in Sual, Pangasinan, which will tremendously affect human life and environment. His support to the people’s well-being against the disastrous coal power plant emanates naturally from being a seminarian studying God’s Word and from being a Christian mold in the IFI tenets of loving God and serving people. If the powers-that-be find his act of support as subversive, then Bro. Raffy Bayudan belongs to the prestigious company of countless Christians who lived committedly the life of our Lord Jesus who was also accused as subversive and tagged as enemy of the state during his time,” OM Timbang declared.

Likewise, the IFI South-Central Luzon Bishops issued a Statement concerning red-tagging dated November 1, 2020: “The South-Central Luzon Bishops Conference (SCLBC) expresses its strong alarm and grave concern over the inclusion of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) among the so-called front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), allegedly involved in recruiting church people to the underground movement. This latest act of red-tagging, hurled by a certain ‘Eric Almendras,’ is untrue. The accuser, who works for the government’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), lacks integrity and credibility. His claims are part of a bigger propaganda that aims to sow distrust in the Church and discredit its ministries among those in the margins of society.”

The NTF-ELCAC’s malicious accusation intends to vilify the Church, which proclaims the Gospel's message of social justice. This false and evil tactic is both an offense on the truth and a mockery of the Church. We will not allow this diabolical scheme to intimidate us into silence and inaction. We denounce this villainy that uses untruth to raise derision and division. There is no truth to this, which is the work of the devil, the ‘father of lies’ (John 8:44),” the Statement added.

OM Timbang said, “We regard red-tagging as gravely serious accusation and highly dangerous, apart from being malicious and unjust and violative of the constitutional and democratic rights of anyone being accused, labelled or tagged as communist members or terrorist supporters. The red-tagging opens up the victims as easy targets for human rights abuse and attacks, for summary killings, and for judicial harassment. It blurs the distinction between active NPA combatants and legitimate social activists and advocates for justice, peace and freedom like the church people. Red-tagging violates the principle of presumption of innocence, of the freedom of association and is equivalent to guilt by mere association. It deprives the victims the right to due process as they are put to trial by publicity.”

“Red-tagging or red-baiting” is a government’s form of vilifying and harassing perceived “enemies of the state” which emanated during the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This is expanded at present to alleged “supporters, recruiters, and members of the CPP-NPA-NDFP,” and whose actions are carried out by the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).  Headed by President Rodrigo Duterte as chairperson, the other officers include Gen. Hermogenes Esperon as NICA Chief and Major Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. of AFP Southern Luzon Command as national spokesperson. The main active campaigner and “attack-dog” in social media is Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy. Now, this NTF-ELCAC has produced another “attack-dog” in the name of Ka Eric Almendras (Jeffrey Celiz, real name) of Iloilo City, once an “activist” during the time of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and “drug protector” under former Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog.

The NTF-ELCAC has organized several task forces in the regional, provincial, municipal, barangay and community levels, and composed of the military, police, government officials, members of government-organized non-government organizations (GO-NGOs), and private individuals. This strategy is called by the Duterte government as “Whole-of-the-Nation Approach.” The problem with this approach is that the people who are allegedly involved are openly “labelled”, “tagged”, or “pin-pointed” by their so-called “witnesses” whom the military and police forces present as “surrenderees”.

This anti-insurgency campaign is worrisome because of the tactics of the elements of ELCAC, first “warning” individuals, mostly activists, by “tagging” them as NPA-CPP recruiters. At the barangay/community levels, the military and police then approach the “tagged” individuals to report to their camps/stations to surrender so as to be spared of arrest and charges in court (so-called “clearing” of names from the list of the military/police intelligence operatives).

Refusing to “follow orders” from the military and police, some will try their “luck” by going to other places (including immediate members of their family) or are forced to transfer to other places. With the unknown whereabouts of these “red-tagged” persons, they are now considered “wanted persons” subject to manhunt operation and arrest. The ELCAC people will continue to malign and vilify these people in the barangays/communities where they lived before, thus causing anxiety and fear among the relatives and friends of these alleged “wanted persons.”  Eventually, the families and friends of these “wanted persons” will help the ELCAC people to persuade them (wanted persons) to surrender. Thus many “surrenderees” are paraded by the military who received the so-called “livelihood assistance” from the counter-insurgency program under the government’s “Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP)”.

Those not heeding the advice of relatives and friends will continue to “live and work” without fear of repression. However, if perchance the military apprehended them, without arrest warrants, they will be presented with trumped-up charges and linked to certain “ambush” which occurred in places even unknown to them. The “warrant of arrest” of several aliases of NPA will be presented in court by the arresting officers who attached to the affidavits the names of two “surrenderees” as “eye-witnesses.” Surprisingly, the name/s of the arrested persons are included. Denying the arrested persons of temporary liberty, the arresting officers will ensure that the arrested cannot apply for bail as they were (allegedly) found in possession of “a hand grenade, or pistols, and/or live ammunitions” inside their bags or in the room where they stayed during the time of arrest. With “trumped-up charges,” these arrested persons will wait for at least five to six years for completion of their hearings (on many charges), and eventually will be acquitted later.

The “involuntary disappearance act” by the military/police operatives is enforced on a person “picked up” and “resisted arrest”. This form of attack affects not only the person being “picked up” but also his/her family and relatives, as well. Additionally, those perceived as “hard-core persons” by the military/police can be subjected to “extra-judicial killings” either by declaring them that they fought back (“nanlaban”) or involved in robbery and other criminal assaults.

The attacks against persons which started with “red-tagging or red-baiting” in pursuit of “stopping the communist-led rebellion” in the Philippines is a violation of human rights. Historically, however, the “rebellion” in the Philippines is rooted in the question of “land ownership.” The revolts and uprisings of the Colorums and Sakdalistas in the 1930s were rooted in the agrarian struggle. Today, likewise, the peasants’ struggle for land is the reason for the armed conflict. There will be no end to the armed conflict until genuine land reform and rural development are fully implemented in this country. The IFI believes that ending the armed conflict can be possible through the negotiating table or the peace talks between the Philippine Government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

With the peace talks cancelled by the Duterte administration, the IFI Obispo Maximo calls on the faithful: “We ask bishops, clergy, lay officers, and general membership of the IFI to continue to hold on to the faith and hope in Christ and to the mission and heritage of our Church. Let us persist to claim on God’s liberating power over our lives and work and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit to embolden us to persevere in faithful discipleship and bold witness amidst persecution, because for us in the IFI, we will continue to serve the Lord.”



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