When must democracy end and national security begin?
By Mauro Gia Samonte / The Manila Times
TWO developments in the government campaign against the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) insurgency should shock us. One is the passage at the House of Representatives of House Bill 20171, which seeks to turn into law the agreement between the University of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense signed years ago banning the entry of security forces into the campuses of the university. The other is the threat from a sizeable number of congressmen and senators to scrap the proposed P28.1-billion budget for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) in the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Sure enough, as is the wont of those in the communist terrorist insurgency, democratic principles are invoked in the developments. The projected ban of security forces from UP campuses is parroted about as a necessary move to uphold academic freedom. Put quite simply, the ban is made to ensure that UP students are never to be disturbed by state interference in the pursuit of their studies.
In concrete practice, however, the state university has prided itself in being the hotbed of radicalism, which for the most part has spawned many an upheaval not for the pursuit of academic freedom but as a tool for crushing the establishment. Who would come forward and deny that the Diliman Commune of the early 1970s came about as an adjunct to the overall CPP-NPA strategy of bringing down what early on Jose Maria Sison had envisioned to be a dictatorship by then President Ferdinand Marcos? Students seized the campus in February 1971 and with slingshot projectiles, pillboxes and Molotov cocktails, battled the MetroCom in an exercise of political authority over the university just the way their paradigm, the Communards, did to Paris in 1848.
According to retired Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, in his column titled "In flagrante" on Thursday, House Bill 20171 was smuggled into the legislative process by the Makabayan bloc with signatures from representatives being sought, mostly in absentia and in a hasty manner, giving the legislators no time to study the measure.
"It was almost a done deal until Senior Deputy Majority Leader Boying Remulla, Rep. Martin Romualdez and Speaker Lord Allan Velasco moved to strike it down for many reasons," wrote Parlade.
Parlade continued: "According to Rep. Remulla, the presence of the security sector inside UP campuses had nothing to do with academic freedom and freedom to teach. True. In fact, students and teachers are able to exercise their rights more freely, if they are secured in the campuses by the presence of security officers."
On the other hand, an object of contempt of the same bloc of representatives is the budget allocated in the 2022 GAA for the NTF-Elcac. Taking up the group's cause is an alarming number of legislators in both houses of Congress who, invoking the power of the purse the lower house solely enjoys under the country's democratic setup, also agitate for the defunding of the NTF-Elcac.
Now what is the NTF-Elcac budget all about?
It's about continuing the momentum of the successful campaign of the government to end the CPP-NPA insurgency. In various reports made by NTF-Elcac vice chairman, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., through the Barangay Development Program (BDP), more than P16 billion of its 2021 budget had accounted for completely freeing from CPP-NPA influence 822 barangay (villages) and the surrender of NPA regulars and their militia support numbering 18,000.
The BDP is the main strategy of the NTF-Elcac involving the well-rounded development of barangay in all areas of social concerns, i.e., farm-to-market roads (for easy transport by farmers in far-flung areas of their produce), health care and sanitation, schoolhouses, and decent housing.
It is said that in Southern Tagalog and the Bicol Region, the CPP-NPA insurgency has been reduced — as Parlade had sworn to do when he was chief of the Southern Luzon Command (SolCom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines — to near zero.
According to Esperon, the P28.1-billion outlay for the NTF-Elcac in the 2022 GAA is precisely aimed at achieving that zero reckoning for the CPP-NPA in the rest of the country this time — and for good.
That the Makabayan bloc is fiercely agitating to defund the NTF-Elcac is understandable. Arlene Brosas, Teddy Casiño, Carlos Zarate and their ilk should find their heads rolling if the fund is not cut. The task force is determined to seek the proscription of the group as communist terrorists. Already, there is a court finding of probable cause for Gabriela to be adjudged a terrorist group. Once this judgment is made, all the rest in the communist terrorist conspiracy will drop like falling dominoes.
It is very clear that at stake in the controversy is national security.
It is hard to understand therefore why even legislators, particularly the senators, outside of the bloc are joining in the communist terrorist outcry. Sen. Ping Lacson, chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, for one, is on record as having rued approving the NTF-Elcac outlay in the 2021 GAA. Does he regret the imminent demise of the CPP-NPA rebellion? Why?
Lacson, of course, has announced his announced his intention to run for president in the 2022 elections. The CPP-NPA could strike up a modus vivendi with any aspirant in those elections for the delivery of communist terrorist-influenced votes. The same consideration could prove true for all the other 2022 elections candidates. For one thing, the NPA requires candidates to secure its PTC (permit to campaign). How could lawmakers supportive of the NTF-Elcac budget get such PTC?
That's how dastardly the move is of lawmakers to defund the NTF-Elcac. Just to ensure their votes in the elections, they would go to the extent of sacrificing the very security of the nation. Once the NTF-Elcac is deprived of its funding, its excellent implementation of the barangay development program will completely stop — thereby giving the CPP-NPA a much-needed breathing space to stay its otherwise imminent demise.
For all we care, those lawmakers could even turn out to be stooges of the CPP-NPA in pursuing its drive to grab political power not so much with guns as with clever manipulation of parliamentary processes.
Wary of such a turn of events, the entirety of the 1,406 remaining barangay out to benefit from the continuous implementation of the BDP, has petitioned Congress to pass the proposed P28.1 billion NTF-Elcac budget. The same with the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP), which released a statement to the press with the bold heading:
"LPP G.A. Resolution No. 2021-009 supporting President Duterte's anti-insurgency program and urging Congress to approve the proposed P28.12 billion allocation for the barangay development program (BDP) of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) in the 2022 general appropriations bill (GAB)."