Philippine Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte was appointed vice chair of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on May 10, 2023. This government agency is notorious for so-called “red-tagging” of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), i.e., falsely accusing them of supporting the communist insurgency in the Philippines. Duterte shares the position of NTF-ELCAC vice chair with National Security Adviser Eduardo Año under the direction of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The NTF-ELCAC, convened by Duterte’s father, ex-President Rodrigo Duterte, back in 2018 under Executive Order No. 70, is supposed to end the communist insurgency that has been going on for decades throughout the country under the “whole-of-nation” approach. The NTF-ELCAC has so far used “red-tagging” to silence targeted government critics. “Red-tagging” is mostly based on pure suspicion and in many cases leads to intimidation, assaults, and even subsequent murders.
In 2020, the human rights organization Karapatan filed criminal and administrative complaints against NTF-ELCAC officials with the Office of the Ombudsman. After the task force attacked the nongovernmental organization Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) by “red-tagging,” ACT filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO). In it, it expressed sharp criticism of the Task Force’s increasing “red-tagging.” In response to the ACT’s ILO complaint, Deputy Attorney General Angelita Miranda, a representative of the NTF-ELCAC legal cooperation cluster, said that “red-tagging” does not legally exist.
Secretary General of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, Cedric Tendenilla, pointed out that the appointment of Sara Duterte as the new NTF-ELCAC vice chair, coupled with her strong push for a mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), could lead to the militarization of schools. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. warned that Duterte should focus on social problems in the education sector instead of counterinsurgency.
The Philippine Commission on Human Rights shared its grave concern regarding the repeated “red-tagging” of journalists by the controversial Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) television channel; which affected several journalists of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) such as from Philstar and Rappler.
The Philippine human rights organization In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend) fears that Sara Duterte’s position in the NTF-ELCAC will increase the threat level of HRDs from the task force. Karapatan also reiterated that the task force is responsible for numerous human rights violations and called for its abolition. Despite the NTF-ELCAC’s obvious discourse of contempt for human rights, it received funding of some 6.3 billion Philippine pesos this year.
Photo © Raffy Lerma