The Philippines should scrap the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), United Nations special rapporteur Irene Khan said last week.
Khan is the second UN rapporteur to flag the anti-communist body which has been accused of red-tagging civilians and lawmakers who do not agree with the government.
Khan, rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, said the time has come to abolish the “outdated” NTF-ELCAC, which she said was created six years ago by the Duterte regime “in a different context.”
The abolition, she said, “will not only address some of the most critical drivers of red-tagging but it will also allow this administration to modernize peace-building approaches.”
While the NTF-ELCAC was a creation of the Duterte administration, the current Marcos government backed its continued existence by allotting funds in the national budget in the past two years. In effect, this made the body a part of the government bureaucracy. This, despite the fact that the Marcos regime had declared the six decades’ old communist insurgency practically completely neutralized.
Khan completed a 10-day visit to the Philippines last week, at the end of which she hosted a press conference where she aired her recommendations.
Besides calling for the scrapping of the anti-communist task force, Khan also met with government officials, human rights groups, media practitioners, political prisoners, and press freedom advocates.
Unlike the Duterte government which made it clear that UN rapporteurs were not welcome in the country, the Marcos administration opted for a more welcoming approach.
Khan herself noted that the current government has denied having a red-tagging policy. She also praised the administration for not having a policy of corruption. In fact, the current regime “has a policy on anti-corruption, on fighting corruption.”
As such, Khan called on the government “to adopt a policy on fighting red-tagging,” which she added must never be used on innocent civilians.
Based on the changing political landscape, she said, the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC “will allow for a more inclusive peacemaking platform or platforms with the participation of women, peacemakers, and communities as a genuine whole-of-nation approach to peace.”
The UN rapporteur said the victims of red-tagging in the country include a diverse range of groups, including human rights defenders, humanitarian workers, religious leaders, members of the academe, the youth, health workers, and leaders of indigenous groups.
The majority of red-tagging victims blamed the anti-communist task force as the “culprit or the instigator” while others laid the blame on state security officials, the military, and even some media outlets linked to political figures, according to Khan.
She said she had openly asked the government “whether they have a policy on red-tagging” and was reassured that it does not encourage or endorse it.
However, Khan also said that there is clear evidence that red-tagging and terror-tagging “are being used by security forces as part of their counter-terrorism strategy.”
In November, last year, another UN special rapporteur, Ian Fry, also called on the Philippine government to abolish the NTF-ELCAC.
In his assessment, Fry said that the anti-communist task force had moved beyond its original mandate to red-tag civilians. This drew flak from justice and security officials, who said Fry’s report was incomplete.Critics of the UN representatives say that what they were doing was tantamount to interference in the country’s internal affairs.