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Senators, coalition urge Duterte to ‘kick out’ Parlade

- By Rene Acosta @reneacosta­bm & Butch Fernandez @butchfbm

ANETWORK of civil-society groups steering the country’s private response to the Covid-19 pandemic has urged President Duterte to “kick out” Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., saying his admission of his group’s “profiling and harassing” of organizers of community pantries only served to worsen the raging health crisis.

“We believe that Bayanihan and citizen-led initiative­s will always be crucial for us to beat the pandemic. Mr. Parlade fails to recognize this, and his actions abet the crisis,” said the Covid-19 Action Network, a civil-society group that coordinate­s actions of nongovernm­ent actors and consolidat­es policy gains amid the pandemic.

“He has to go,” the group said in a news statement issued on Thursday. Two senators, meanwhile, are seeking to impose stiff sanctions against NTF-ELCAC that may imperil the agency’s P19-billion annual budget.

But Senate President Vicente Sotto III promptly counseled caution, saying “I believe the NTFELCAC program is good.”

The senate leader warned“de funding it (NTF-ELCAC) would give back the gains of government to the rebels.”

“Let us not be hasty in blaming a good program because of irresponsi­ble statements from some officials,” Sotto said, offering another option: “Replace officials instead.”

Who’s not afraid of Parlade? Parlade is the controvers­ial threestar Army general and commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippine­s Southern Luzon Command, while also serving as the spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the body formed by President Duterte to spearhead the government’s campaign against communist insurgency.

At least 300 community pantries have been put up around the country by civic-minded volunteers and donors, whose only aim is to help poor and hungry Filipinos cope with the economic effect of the pandemic, but some of the organizers of the stalls have complained that they have been subjected to profiling, if not accused of acting as communist fronts.

A pantry located along Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, which paved the way for the existence of similar community stalls around the country, has to shut down for a single day on Tuesday its operations after its key organizer, Anna Patricia Non, feared for her safety after she was “profiled” by policemen amid initial insinuatio­ns of “red tagging” by Parlade of the community food stalls.

This prompted Philippine National Police chief General Debold Sinas to issue a statement that no orders have been issued for policemen to question the organizers and check on their background­s, saying the drive to help one another under the spirit of volunteeri­sm has been in practice when the country observed its first lockdown last year.

Other government officials, including Interior Secretary Eduardo Año have also told state agents and local leaders to leave the pantry and their organizers alone.

“Mr. Parlade’s statement that community pantry organizers are using the initiative to spread propaganda is uncalled for. We should welcome such spontaneou­s initiative­s of community spirit or Bayanihan in a time of great national emergency. These initiative­s have in fact been publicly encouraged and supported by Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, Department of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, and Privacy Commission­er Raymund Liboro. As Commission­er Liboro stated, the police’s profiling of community pantry organizers is unlawful and a violation of their right to privacy,” the Covid-19 Action Network said.

The group wanted the government to make Parlade account for his admission of the organizers’ background checking and for advancing the notion that the pantries are serving the communist group’s end.

“We want to make Mr. Parlade accountabl­e for his spurious red-tagging of the organizers of community pantries. Mr. Parlade’s directive weakens the overall response of government and society to provide relief to our people at the height of the pandemic,” the group said.

“To red-tag an initiative which purely intends to feed hungry Filipinos in need is utterly despicable. Helping others and offering aid that the government itself is mandated to provide is not radical, nor is it a crime,” it added.

Rather than discrediti­ng the operations of the pantries along with their highly commendabl­e purpose, the group said the government should instead encourage their operations.

“The government must encourage the community initiative­s to provide immediate relief to fellow Filipinos during this critical time. In light of the government’s admission of its resources being stretched and the difficulty it faces to provide sufficient relief, community initiative­s like setting up pantries have become all the more critical,” the Covid-19 Action Network said.

“As Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto said in a tweet, government has limited resources, so any other efforts to help others is very welcome,” it added.

The group said the long lines of people queuing at the pantries are proof that Filipinos need immediate assistance.

“Government’s concern over overcrowdi­ng at community pantries is a clear indication that our people are seeking immediate assistance. The people flock to these areas to obtain help,” the Covid-19 Action Network said.

‘Defund’

SENATE Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, for his part, maintained senators need not wait for the upcoming plenary deliberati­ons on the 2022 national bu get to move for defunding the ELCAC.

“The President should realign the NTF-ELCAC fund under the 2021 GAA [General Appropriat­ions Act] now because as the saying goes: aanhin pang damo kung patay na ang kabayo,” said Drilon.

The Minority Leader was the first to make the call months ago to realign the anti-insurgency budget to bolster funding for the “ayuda to the poor.”

This as Senators Joel Villanueva and Sherwin T. Gatchalian earlier signaled intent to realign the NTF-ELCAC budget.

Gatchalian cited criticisms that public funds “are not spent well” referring to reports naming some officials, including Parlade who admitted the “profiling” and background checks on the organizers of the community pantry feeding program.

Parlade visibly irritated some senators when he compared the community pantry to “satan offering apple to Eve,” adding he was not ruling out the possibilit­y “leftist elements were using community pantries to goad the people to be angry at government for failing to help them.”

Drilon, however, recalled that even before the issue on community pantry, minority senators already moved for additional funding in the national budget for the feeding program.

Lacson rebukes DND for keeping Parlade

THE most pained reaction from senators came from Sen. Panfilo Lacson who recalled that since 2016, “I have been defending the budget of the Department of National Defense [DND] and all its attached agencies,” and in 2020 had “stubbornly fought to retain the P16.5-billion anti-insurgency fund of the NTF-ELCAC for 2021, arguing that it was intended for developmen­t programs, activities and projects in areas that had been cleared of the presence of the New People’s Army [NPA], and not for armed anti-insurgency operations.”

Lacson recalled, however, that the defense establishm­ent “openly ignored” a Senate recommenda­tion for the immediate relief of Parlade as NTF-ELCAC spokesman, “not only because his civilian position is violative of the Constituti­on… but [Parlade] has, in fact, on many occasions, became a ‘ liability’ to the overall efforts of the government, as well as the government’s position on the pending 37 petitions against the Anti-terrorism Act of 2020 before the Supreme Court, mainly due to his careless remarks and flawed interpreta­tion of certain provisions of the law.”

Unfortunat­ely, Lacson lamented, “the DND has openly ignored the Senate in that regard. Thus, I am not sure if I will still defend their budget this year with the same tenacity as I did the previous years—especially if the NTF-ELCAC spokespers­on continues to threaten to affect its mission with uncalled for statements.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, for his part said in Filipino that it would be best for Parlade to shut his mouth because he is ruining the image of the AFP as a profession­al and discipline­d institutio­n.

If the P19-billion budget for the NTF-ELCAC will just go to fund outrageous actions and viewpoints by the likes of Parlade, then, Pangilinan said, the money should just be diverted to aiding the poor.

Sen. Grace Poe said the entire Senate had adopted Committee Report 186, seeking Parlade’s relief and sanction.

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