A joint military and civil government body recently released a list of names and organizations purportedly allied with the outlawed New People’s Army (NPA). The source of the list, according to the Provincial Task Force-Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC), are the documents captured from the insurgents in various anti-insurgency operations including supposed testimonies of former rebels who have surrendered to the government.
The list included mainly non-government organization (NGO) workers, several student leaders and church leaders including prominent priests who are in the frontlines of the church’s social action initiatives. It included Fr. Armando Limsa, an indigenous tribal leader who has been active in civil society campaigns, Pastor Elena del Valle, a protestant cleric, Fr. Joseph Cacacha who is actively involved in indigenous people’s issues in Southern Palawan, and Fr. Jasper Lahan who heads the Social Action Center of the Puerto Princesa Apostolic Vicariate.
The PTF-ELCAC was upfront in admitting that it has yet to verify the veracity of their information against the individuals concerned. As Vice Adm. Rene Medina of the Western Command explained: “Hindi rin namin alam kung talagang totoo or ano pero based on these documents, we have agreed na we have to check also kaya ipinakita rin natin.”
General Medina followed this rationale with a message encouraging those in the list to present themselves to authorities and “clear” their names. “Kung sa palagay nila ay hindi talaga sila kakampi or talagang affiliated sa CPP-NPA, pwede naman silang pumunta sa amin para i-declare nila,” he said.
Many would conclude that the government seems to have adopted the “guilty unless proven innocent” principle.
It was not clear from the PTF-ELCAC press conference what the government intends to do to those on their list if they fail to “clear” their names, or whether they are conducting an independent validation of the information against the individuals concerned.
It also glossed over the process of “clearing” that those in the list are required to do so—whether it is a matter of challenging the evidence or challenging the accusation against them in a manner approximating the judicial process or if it takes the person to convince an interrogator or interviewer that he or she is innocent.
Red-tagging is insidious and unfair and exposes those on the receiving end to physical harm and mental anguish. It is a blatant affront to one’s inherent right to due process. The bold decision of the PTF-ELCAC to release the names without validating its information has attracted public criticisms. While the body’s intention is well-meaning, in terms of eradicating the insurgency problem in Palawan, such method of red-tagging is alarming, event violent, and unnecessarily weaken’s ELCAC’s credibility in the eyes of the public.