Senator Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation. (Screengrab from Senate hearing Facebook Live video)

MANILA – Members of the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives were a no-show at the Senate hearing into the complaints of so-called "red tagging" of individuals and groups allied with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). 

Senator Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation, said aside from official notices delivered by the Committee Secretariat last Oct. 30 to the different militant groups – Bayan Muna, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Kabataan, Gabriela, while properly received, did not confirm their attendance.

An open invitation was likewise sent last week to the representatives of the Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan (Makabayan) bloc of the House of Representatives to voluntarily attend this public hearing. The letter was coursed through the Speaker of the House, considering that the Committee cannot issue the said invitation directly to individual party-list representatives in view of the inter-parliamentary courtesy existing between the two chambers.

"Having said that, we received a letter from former Rep. Neri Colmenares requesting that another hearing be held so he may be given an opportunity to attend, but without the presence of the members of the security sector, particularly Lt. Gen. (Antonio) Parlade. The chair may have to discuss this with the members of the committee," Lacson said.

Only the bloc's representative, lawyer Maneeka Sarza was present during the hearing.

In a letter to the committee on Tuesday, Makabayan bloc members claimed that they are not able to attend the hearing as they are focusing on separate relief missions for victims of Super Typhoon Rolly.

Lacson convened the hearing to exercise its oversight authority over the defense sector on the issue of red-tagging or red-baiting pursuant to Senate Resolution No. 559.

"As I have repeatedly done in the recent past, let me be forthright by saying that as one of the authors and the principal sponsor of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, we ensure that the same is applied correctly and appropriately with utmost respect for the rule of law, and that the Bill of Rights under the 1987 Constitution will always be the backbone of this legislation," Lacson said in his opening statement.

Members of the defense sector who were physically present during the hearing outlined and presented proof of the radicalization and recruitment program targeting youths by communist terrorist groups using front organizations.

NPA youth recruitment must stop 

During the hearing, Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa cited earlier findings on the deliberate recruitment by rebels of teenagers as their manpower and communist terrorist groups (CTG) "continue to spread terror even in the time of pandemic".

"It is about time we call spade a spade. This has to stop," dela Rosa said.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the CTGs "have stunted the growth and modernization not only of the countryside but the whole country".

The CTGs also resort to radicalization and recruitment of the youth to replenish their ranks, Esperon added.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the hearing is very timely.

"So we can expose once and for all the true color of these people who are trying to destroy our democracy," Lorenzana said.

No red-tagging by government 

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año denied that red-tagging is a part of the government's policy.

"Let me emphasize that we are not the enemies here. We all know who the enemies are and they are the communist terrorist groups under the CPP-NPA-NDF and their allies who have been the country's bane for the last five decades," he said.

He added that red-tagging is not a mere product of their imagination or a tool to pin down the opposition "as the leftist groups would want it to appear".

"In fact, it was Communist Party of the Philippines (founding chairman) Joma Sison who red-tagged these left organizations such as Anakbayan, Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and all other front organizations," he said.

Año, meanwhile, emphasized that the government is duty-bound to protect the people from the enemies of the state.

"It (government) will do everything within its authority to ensure that its people are safe and protected most especially from the enemies of the people who are like wolves in sheep's clothing who take advantage of people's weaknesses and vulnerabilities so that they would unwittingly join their cause. Sometimes, we wonder why these groups complain of red-tagging when they themselves admit to being (Reds)," he added.

While the CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by foreign jurisdictions such as the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, one supra-national jurisdiction – European Union -- is not in the list of the UN Security Council by virtue of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373.

In the Philippines, there is a pending proscription case against the organization before the Manila Regional Trial Court.

Other key government officials present in the hearing were Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff, Gen. Gilbert Gapay, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr, Philippine National Police deputy chief for operations, Lt. Gen. Cesar Hawthorne Binag, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica) Director General Alex Paul Monteagudo. (PNA)