Controversial General Resigns from Philippine Anti-Communist Task Force

J.C. Gotinga
Controversial General Resigns from Philippine Anti-Communist Task Force A protester wears a hat calling on the Philippine government to stop “red-tagging” – a practice by the military and the police to label groups or individuals as being supporters of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines – during a demonstration in Manila on International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

A controversial Philippine army general confirmed Thursday that he quit from a government anti-communist task force after he angered people by accusing lawmakers, journalists and celebrities of supporting the outlawed communist party and its guerrilla wing.

Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. said he had resigned as spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) about a month ago, but vowed to carry on with the fight against the country’s 52-year-old insurgency. He serves as head of the military’s important Southern Luzon Command.

“I have submitted my letter of resignation addressed to the President almost a month ago. I want to ease the pressure on the NTF-ELCAC principals who are being questioned by legislators for designating me as spokesman despite my being in the active service,” Parlade said in a statement.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, announced on Thursday that the chief executive had formally accepted the general’s resignation. This came after months of pressure from congress people, rights groups and activists who had called for the general’s removal from the task force.

“I want to assure our critics and naysayers that I am not running away from this fight,” Parlade said. “As a citizen of this country, it behooves me to continue with my patriotic duty to defend our country and end the 52 years’ onslaught of the CPP-NPA terrorists, [in] whatever legal way I can,” he continued, referring to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

Parlade earned a reputation for “red-tagging” – a practice among Philippine military and police personnel of accusing individual people or groups of being communist rebels or sympathizers.

The general has faced defamation cases from leftist lawmakers, groups and personalities whom he red-tagged. He has had to apologize publicly or retract his accusations a few times, as he did when he linked a Filipina movie film star, Angel Locsin, to the communists.

In February, Parlade accused Tetch Torres-Tupas, a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, of being a communist propagandist after she reported about indigenous tribesmen petitioning against a controversial anti-terrorism law, which the government passed last year.

Media advocacy and human rights groups complained that Parlade’s comments about the journalist was a threat to press freedom. New York-based Human Rights Watch then called on Manila to investigate “red-baiting” and have Parlade answer for his provocative comments.

In March, the Senate recommended Parlade be removed from the anti-communist task force, citing a constitutional provision that prohibits active military servicemen from occupying civilian government posts.

The following month, some senators proposed to defund the task force after Parlade insinuated that a popular citizen-led movement to feed the poor, called “community pantries,” was a communist ploy. Parlade said the senators would be “stupid” to strip the task force of funding.

President Duterte established the task force in December 2018 after failed attempts at peace negotiations with the communists.

The task force implements the government’s two-pronged strategy to stamp out the insurgency: sustained military operations against guerrilla units coupled with local government programs to entice rebels to defect, including amnesty and economic aid packages. The communist rebellion in the Philippines is Asia’s longest-running insurgency.

In recent years, scores of activists and personalities associated with progressive groups were killed in assassinations or in police operations, often after they were red-tagged. Rights groups expressed fears about worse scenarios under the new anti-terrorism law.

It criminalizes communication and collective action that may be interpreted as supportive of groups which the government considers as terrorists, such as the communist party and its guerrilla force.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who sponsored the anti-terrorism law, welcomed Parlade’s resignation. 

“The Senate’s legal position on the issue is clear – that his appointment as an active military officer in a civilian position is clearly proscribed by the Constitution, and whatever legal discussion or debate on his official designation in a civilian office while still in the active military service has not become moot and academic,” Lacson said.

Lacson, a former national police chief, had earlier warned that Parlade’s missteps in red-tagging innocent civilians might diminish his own enthusiasm for the task force.

“I am glad it has ended this way,” Lacson said in a statement.

Parlade is set to retire from the military service on July 26, making him eligible for appointment to the civilian government.

“Retirement does not mean the end of my advocacy. In fact, this is a new beginning, sans the prohibitions imposed on public servants. You will be hearing more of citizen Antonio Parlade Jr,” the general said.

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