Philippine Lawmaker Hits Back at President’s ‘Grand Conspiracy’ Remarks against Leftists

Aie Balagtas See
Manila
2020-12-01
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Philippine Lawmaker Hits Back at President’s ‘Grand Conspiracy’ Remarks against Leftists Protesters hold up banners as members and supporters of an underground communist movement march along a street in Manila, March 31, 2017.
Reuters

A congressman branded by the Philippine president as a “communist” fought back Tuesday, accusing Rodrigo Duterte of reckless “red-tagging” of leftist politicians, a day after a congresswoman slammed the military for displaying photos of her dead daughter following a clash with rebels.

In a televised rant late Monday night, Duterte accused Carlos Zarate, a member of the House of Representatives and the Bayan Muna party, of being part of a communist-led “grand conspiracy” against his government.

“You are co-conspirators, you’re a communist. Don’t say you are just friends with the NPA,” Duterte said of Zarate, referring to the New People’s Army, the guerrilla wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

On Tuesday, Zarate did not appear at a Senate inquiry over the government and military’s practice of “red tagging” – labeling certain groups as communist fronts without providing any evidence.

But the congressman did respond to Duterte’s remarks by accusing the president of using the left as a scapegoat to hide what Zarate described as the government’s incompetence in handling the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the country.

“We vehemently condemn it,” the lawmaker said of the president’s comments. “Even in the death of the child of our colleague, the Duterte administration insists on using its propaganda to justify its reckless and sweeping red-tagging and terrorist tagging.”

The president’s remarks on national television came after Jevilyn Campos Cullamat, 22, a member of the New People’s Army and the daughter of Rep. Eufemia Campos Cullamat, was killed during a weekend firefight between soldiers and NPA guerrillas in southern Surigao del Sur province. Congresswoman Cullamat is also a member of the Bayan Muna party.

Zarate has repeatedly denied in the past that Bayan Muna – which the government recognizes as a legitimate party represented in Congress – is a member of the CPP or NPA.

Duterte also linked the women’s rights group Gabriela, the ACT Teacher’s Party-list and the youth group Kabataan Party-list, with Bayan Muna, accusing them of being fronts for the communist movement.

“We are identifying you as members in a grand conspiracy comprising all legal fronts that you have organized,” to topple the government, Duterte said, according to transcripts released by his office on Tuesday.

“You know, in truth, Zarate, every time I see you on TV, it’s like I see dog shit,” the president said. “You better watch out.”

Duterte, himself a self-styled leftist, courted the support of the leftist groups when he ran for the presidency in 2016. One of his first official acts was to open peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA. The talks were scrapped after Duterte accused the rebels of carrying on with attacks against government forces despite his peace overtures.

Groups in Congress with links to the communist movement should stop “lying” about their ties with the CPP-NPA, according to presidential spokesman Harry Roque.

Duterte had “personal” knowledge of Zarate’s links with the armed group, Roque said when reporters asked him to cite evidence.

“Stop accusing the government of red-tagging when they’re really red, according to the president. It’s true,” Roque told a press briefing on Tuesday, as he encouraged the CPP-NPA to renounce the use of arms.

Mariel Lucenio and Jojo Rinoza contributed to this report from Manila.

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