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Power of the purse and of the Army pen

By Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. / The Manila Times

THE verbal tussle between some members of the Senate and myself has escalated over the past week. It started with the community pantry in Maginhawa Street, which netizens and community members had brought to the attention of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac). I deliberately postponed making comments on that pantry because, first, I am convinced it is a very good project that people and organizations can emulate, albeit temporarily, during this time of hardship. Second, I wasn’t sure about the background of the organizers and the real agenda of the group. In fact, I was telling the members of the strategic communications or stratcom cluster to be cautious in approaching this issue as it could be a trap, a bait for them to attack us for red-tagging or red-baiting and make us appear to be insensitive to the conditions of the poor communities.

It was already becoming very clear that dubious groups were exploiting this otherwise noble initiative, with all the photos and videos shared by netizens of what some of these community pantries were doing other than sharing food: agitating people with hate slogans against the government, covertly distributing propaganda leaflets, asking people to sign blank sheets, and even conducting megaphone operations while distributing food. This was happening only in a few areas; the majority of the community pantries were quietly sharing food without fanfare. When the NTF-Elcac stepped in, there was an uproar, especially from middle forces. Never mind that the task force came in to perform its mandate to counter the propaganda that was visibly happening. People have no jobs, there is little food on the table, “well-meaning” groups came to alleviate their condition, a few posters here and there, and a media group on call in case the NTF-Elcac or the police would come and take the bait.

In hindsight, now we can say it was indeed a carefully laid trap.

With a well-prepared media, they were able to package the response of the government as anti-people, fascist, insensitive, uncalled for. With a little manipulation by the print media and the cunning way they played with our words, they were able to project the government and the NTF-Elcac as the villain attacking the Good Samaritan. Red-tagged, profiled, harassed, chilling effect, all terms coined in a seemingly well-orchestrated drama concocted by Armas, the Artista at Manunulat ng Sambayanan. As if in concert, all the anti-government forces and personalities, including those in the legislature, were quick to jump in. Siempre, trending. Fair game.

But to call us stupid and imbecilic? And therefore, the NTF-Elcac should be defunded? No, I cannot take that sitting down, especially since they are raising false arguments.

The senators averred that we red-tagged Ana Patricia Non, Anakpawis, Kilusang Mayo Uno or KMU and some other community pantry organizers, so other people are now afraid of setting up their own pantries. It doesn’t follow. The last time we checked, even after that alleged red-tagging, 400 more pantries have sprouted all over the country, almost all of which have genuine initiative to share food. Why? Precisely because they know that the government clearly supports the bayanihan spirit which we have always practiced in the past, without unnecessary publicity and drama.

They are also saying that what we are doing at the NTF-Elcac is shameful and the task force should be disbanded. Sayang lang daw pasweldo sa akin ng NTF-Elcac. Huh? Where did the senators get this wrong information? So, as the media played with our words, the senators must have made up their minds to the point of moving to defund the NTF-Elcac. Now this is awry, and I said in my interview that if these senators would indeed disband or defund the NTF-Elcac, then they must be really stupid, using exactly the same word that Sen. Richard Gordon used to describe me as well as Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy. The following day the Inquirer would come up with this headline: “Parlade: Senators stupid if they defund the task force.”

Context is important but, to some, it becomes irrelevant when ego is placed ahead of everything. I used a qualifier, if. Is that being disrespectful?

This is where this issue is getting out of hand. Is it syntax? The choice of words? Political correctness? Or ego? As of this writing 15 senators have signed the petition to censure me for my “stupid” comment and five more to defund the NTF-Elcac.

I acknowledge I have a lot of catching up to do to improve my communication skills. I’m not cut for this job so I’m really just trying hard to cope with the demands of this role as spokesperson. I am a product of a public school, from kinder up to college, and from where I came from, communications is the least of its expertise. In Fort Del Pilar, what we learned was basic Army English, full of cadet lingo and jargon that only the corps understands. So, why am I here with The Manila Times and the NTF-Elcac as its spokesperson? Because there is a job to do, and somebody has to do it.

In 2010, I was designated the spokesman for the Army. I was hesitant because of my poor command of English and Filipino. I had problems with grammar and everything. I am a Bicolano, and our local diction doesn’t help much either. I took the job just the same because no one else would meet the requirement of the commander. He wanted someone who knew him well, his vision for the Army, and was as passionate as he was in the performance of his job. My only consolation was that I was given the latitude to speak from the heart on the Army’s behalf. In my Commander’s own words: “I know you, you know me, say what you have to say and that’s going to be my position and that of the Army. It was a good deal.”

So, we stood by our position on the Morong 38. The Morong 38 were eventually released by then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima but that never changed the fact that they were members of the NPA or New People’s Army and not health workers as they claimed. Came the Basilan carnage where we stood pat on our recommendation that justice should be pursued by suspending the ceasefire in Basilan, if only to get the Abu Sayyaf Group and Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF criminals responsible for the slaughter of 19 soldiers. That’s the only honorable thing to do so the morale of the troops wouldn’t suffer. It led to my relief as Army spokesman, the order being issued by no less than President Benigno Aquino 3rd himself. The message to commanders then was clear: Stand down if it is about the MILF. For that, we lost another 44 soldiers from the SAF, the Special Action Force, during the Mamasapano incident, a few years later.

Yes, being a spokesman and speaking up against the wishes of the powers-that-be, involves a lot of risk. And more than the little Army English that I have, it’s the character that the Army molded me with that gives me the courage and determination to stand bold, and often lonely, against the odds.


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