Ian Fry, UN Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights in the context of climate change, made a series of critical policy recommendations towards the Philippine government on how to improve the human rights situation during a press conference in Manila on November 15, 2023, following a 10-day visit to the Philippines. Fry recommended especially the abolition of the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
Fry justified this recommendation by stating that the so-called “red-tagging” (i.e., the false accusation of supporting the communist insurgency) of human rights defenders, indigenous people and environmental activists exceeded the mandate of the NTF-ELCAC. According to Fry, this systematic “red-tagging” of activists who speak out against environmentally damaging infrastructure projects, deforestation, mining and land grabbing is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and the right to life. It is evident, said Fry, that the NTF-ELCAC is using its authority to protect the country’s economic interests. Furthermore, these “red-tagging” actions have according to Fry nothing to do with measures to combat terrorist or communist activities. The government has “lost control of some its military organizations” and should rather revise its approach and laws to combat terrorism, said Fry.
Human rights groups have strongly condemned the NTF-ELCAC since it was founded in 2018 due to its numerous cases of “red-tagging” of human rights defenders. In 2022, the non-governmental organization Global Witness once again ranked the Philippines as the most dangerous country in Asia for land and environmental activists.
National Security Adviser and Deputy Chairman of the NTF-ELCAC, Eduardo Año, found the UN Special Rapporteur’s recommendations to be incomplete. Año invited Fry to further or direct dialog with the Task Force for a better assessment of its mandate and direction. Justice Minister and member of the NTF-ELCAC, Jesus Crispin Remulla, defended the task force as an “internal mechanism of the government” in which Fry should not intervene. Senator “Bato” dela Rosa also reacted to the UN Special Rapporteur’s recommendations with rejection, describing Fry as one of “the most misinformed foreigners” ever to enter the country.
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